Who Are We? - ICRC's Mission Conversation, Part 7 - Serving God in Renewal

(Over the next week we will be focusing on seven areas of the mission statement of Immanuel CRC)

"Immanuel Christian Reformed Church
is a multigenerational community of disciples
called by God to utilize our spiritual gifts
by growing in our knowledge of and passion for Jesus Christ,
joining in relationship with others,
and serving God in the renewal of His creation."

Serving God in Renewal - We take seriously the Creation mandate and work to bring things back to the way God created them. We partner with God and others in the restoration of our broken world.

During the summer of 2014 a group from Immanuel traveled to Rehoboth, New Mexico on a mission trip. It was only one of many mission trips people from Immanuel have participated in over the last bunch of summers. Like most of the other trips, the participants in this Rehoboth trip soon learned that while they had gone on the trip to serve others (we worked at a day camp, helped rebuild a home, and served meals to homeless people) we were being served just as much.

There is a mysterious partnership that happens when we talk about service. We often talk about serving others, but that puts us in a strange position of power and authority over others. It brings about the idea that we have things together and others don't so we need to do things for them. Let's be honest, none of us have everything together. When we talk about serving we also need to be very real about the fact that it is only through God's power and gifts that we are able to serve at all. In fact, I have seen groups of students and adults do more work over a week-long mission trip than they had any right doing. The only true explanation is that God's power works through his people in incredible ways.

In a lot of ways the topic that we have been talking about on Sunday mornings for the lat few weeks fits this idea very well. Stewardship. We often talk about this topic in relation to money, but in a real way we are God's stewards of everything. God created the world and everything in it. He created us with the ability to learn and grow and create as well. And God placed us in this world as stewards of his creation. We are caretakers of what God created and what God gave us.

Sin has skewed much of what God created. And we have helped that skewing process more than we care to admit at times. We pollute. We abuse. We destroy. We war. We fail to build up and help. We fail as stewards of God's world, his treasures, his people.

But God is in the renewal business. He is making all things new. And he invites us to partner with him in that renewal--to use what he has given us to strive for what he intended. When we serve others it isn't because we are better than them. Far from it. When we serve this world it isn't because we have all the answers and an ideal picture of what should be. We serve because God is better and because his plan is perfect. He invites us to partner with him. To use what he gave us for the betterment of the world. To seek renewal in his name.

So the question that lays before us is a simple one. How are you seeking God's renewal in this world?

Who Are We? - ICRC's Mission Conversation, Part 6 - Joining in Relationship with Others

(Over the next week we will be focusing on seven areas of the mission statement of Immanuel CRC)

"Immanuel Christian Reformed Church
is a multigenerational community of disciples
called by God to utilize our spiritual gifts
by growing in our knowledge of and passion for Jesus Christ,
joining in relationship with others,
and serving God in the renewal of His creation."

Joining in Relationship with Others - We come alongside members of Immanuel and also our other spheres of influence (school, work, neighborhood) to grow and serve.

Last summer we had a BBQ in Michigan with a bunch of friends we hadn't seen in a while. These were people that we had done ministry with, mentored, laughed with, and served with for the five years that we had lived in Michigan. It was one of the best nights of my summer. We all talked, laughed, and shared memories of the past and things that had happened to us since we last connected. I love those friends very much.

Last night I sat with two of my best friends and talked about life, families, work, and ministry. These friends know me better than most people do. We share a lot of laughs and stories and time. I value the time I get to spend with them very much and I always look forward to hanging out with them. I love those friends very much too.

We join in relationship with all sorts of people. Some of them are short term, others are long term. Some have purpose and others are casual. We meet them in all of the circles that we are a part of. At work, in our neighborhoods, at schools and church. When we talk about joining in relationships with others we need to think about friendships that are deep and circles that are wide.

Deep friendships are the kinds that move past the surface. They may begin in surface level conversations but they move on to deep investments into each other's lives. These are the kinds of relationships that challenge us and lift us up. They help us through tough times and celebrate joys with us. These people know us very well--our fears and hopes--and love us anyways. They are the relationships that take time to build and last as time passes. We don't have very many of these friendships. All too often we shy away from them or don't seek them out. But these relationships are so necessary for us. They are the ones that help us grow and serve the most.

Wide circles can be a challenge as well. We tend to settle in to comfortable lives and not venture very far from what we know. While this may lead to deep friendships, it doesn't lead to wider circles. And wider circles of influence are something that we are called to as well. When we widen who we know we grow in what we know. We learn new points of view and the world becomes larger for us. We realize that we don't have to actually agree on every little detail in order to be friends. We may also learn that we aren't always right and that there are other points of view worth considering as well.

No matter what kinds of relationships you have, it is good to evaluate them from time to time. Do you need to deepen some of these relationships? Do you need to widen your circles a bit? How do they help you grow and serve?

Who Are We? - ICRC's Mission Conversation, Part 5 - Growing in Passion

Special thanks to Pastor Ken for writing the past few days. I'm back at the keyboard today.

(Over the next week we will be focusing on seven areas of the mission statement of Immanuel CRC)

"Immanuel Christian Reformed Church
is a multigenerational community of disciples
called by God to utilize our spiritual gifts
by growing in our knowledge of and passion for Jesus Christ,
joining in relationship with others,
and serving God in the renewal of His creation."

Growing in Passion - We engage in creative, humble adoration of God through all aspects of worship.

When we hear the word passion we don't always think of worship. We probably think more along the lines of interpersonal relationships or hobbies that we like a lot. I'm passionately in love with my wife and I have a passion for hiking and history. But it is a good word to describe our relationship with God as well. God passionately loves us--so much so that he sent his son to die for us so that our sins would be forgiven and we don't have to experience eternal separation from God. Our response to that is a passionate one as well. We respond passionately by loving God and loving others with every fiber of our being. Seems like there is a lot of passion to go around in our relationship with God.

One of the ways (not the only one, mind you) that our passion for God is expressed is through worship--both corporate and individual. Let's start with corporate worship.

This past summer my family experienced the final worship service at Roosevelt Park Community CRC in Grand Rapids. I've written about this experience extensively in the past. One of the things that this church taught Julie and I was passionate worship. It wasn't that it was perfect or anything like that. But it regularly brought all of those participating to a realization of who God was and who we were. We gathered as broken sinners in the presence of a holy God who welcomed us into his arms and forgave us as we were. We worshiped out of that knowledge. It wasn't just singing, although that was a part of it. It was fellowship, sharing and prayer, giving and preaching.

It didn't just happen at Roosevelt Park--although for me that place was always a thin space where God seemed closer than other places. I can vividly remember corporate worship at all of the churches I have been a part of where passion was expressed. I wish everyone could sit in the front pew and listen to singing on Easter Sunday mornings. Passion. If you haven't gathered in a group praying for someone who is sick or commissioning someone to serve you need to experience that. Passion. If you haven't given sacrificially to a cause that touched your heart you need to give all that you have. Passion.

But worship takes place outside of the corporate setting as well. It has to--what kind of disciples would we be if we only worshiped for an hour or two each week? Individual worship of God takes place in many ways throughout each day. It is brought on by nature (common grace), by community, by moments of great joy and great sorrow. It is present in the chaos and in the mundane. At times it is a huge experience that brings us to our knees. At others it is a small moment that makes you think. Always it is an acknowledgment of God's presence in our lives--the reality of who he is and what he has done.

Psalm 96 sums it up pretty well. "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise." That is our God who we worship. He is great and he is worthy. All the time. He is passionate about us and we are called to be passionate about him.

How do you engage in worship every day? What role does worship play in your life. Add a comment and join in the conversation.

Who Are We? - ICRC's Mission Conversation, Part 4 – Growing in Knowledge

Ken Boonstra writes for us again today.

(Over the next week we will be focusing on seven areas of the mission statement of Immanuel CRC)

"Immanuel Christian Reformed Church
is a multigenerational community of disciples
called by God to utilize our spiritual gifts
by growing in our knowledge of and passion for Jesus Christ,
joining in relationship with others,
and serving God in the renewal of His creation."

Growing in Knowledge – We actively participate in the life-long process of learning about God through the study of scripture.

September 10, 1977 I declared my undying and forever love for Anita Hoogstraten.  Usually, if you say you love someone we think that’s a matter of the heart.  But the truth is love is as much a matter of the mind as it is of the heart.  Our minds matter in love.  I know, we live in an age where feelings take top billing.  What we feel about something or someone often trumps a knowing reflection.  If my feelings for Anita determined the longevity of our relationship, we may have split a long time ago.  My feelings go up and down – always have, always will.  Knowing who Anita is, knowing her love for me, knowing my love for her, knowing our frailties and our strengths – all of these and more have contributed to 38 years of marriage.  Feelings alone could not carry the freight.

I’m reminded that John Calvin once noted that we cannot know God unless we know ourselves and we cannot know ourselves unless we know God.  I understand this to mean that we won’t get our love for God straight unless our minds are fully engaged.  Unless we spend time in thoughtful reflection about who God is we will never develop the fullest awareness of God’s love for us or the extent of our love and need for God.  I suppose that’s why Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind.”  Our minds matter.  Knowing is essential for a full life with God.

And our knowing starts with scripture.  Scripture is the greatest revelation of who God is and who we are.  We will lose our way in life without scripture.  Psalm 119 says scripture is like a light to guide us.  Paul in Timothy says scripture makes us “wise for salvation.”  If we want to live as saved people, we need scripture to shape us, encourage us, challenge us, inform us.  It’s not a once for all learning.  We’re always called, as Paul does Timothy, to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.”  Keep on learning about God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s plan, God’s redemption, God’s future – because all of these inform our lives.  You can never know enough about what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ.  Our minds, shaped by God’s word, not only lead us to know about God, but also lead us to know God.  You will never experience God’s undying and forever love unless you know God.


How has scripture shaped your love for God?  What are some of the best ways you’ve discovered to engage in life-long learning about who God is and who you are?

Who Are We? - ICRC's Mission Conversation, Part 3 – Spiritual Gifts

Guest blogger Ken Boonstra joins us today for this reflection.

(Over the next week we will be focusing on seven areas of the mission statement of Immanuel CRC)

"Immanuel Christian Reformed Church
is a multigenerational community of disciples
called by God to utilize our spiritual gifts
by growing in our knowledge of and passion for Jesus Christ,
joining in relationship with others,
and serving God in the renewal of His creation."

Utilizing our Spiritual Gifts – We discover our own unique gifts through education and then actively search for ways to utilize these gifts in our church, neighborhood, community, and the world.

Spiritual gifts have been around since the church began.  The book of Acts says that on the first Pentecost people from all over the world heard the disciples “speaking in their own language” (Acts 2:6).  No, it wasn’t alcohol.  Peter said God’s Spirit had been poured out on all people, just like the prophet Joel said would happen.  The apostle Paul in multiple places (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4) speaks about the people of God having gifts, unique gifts to be used for God’s purposes.

The Christian Reformed Church came to grips with this teaching again in the 70s when nearly every Sunday School or adult education time worked through some form of “Discover Your Gifts.”  The Spirit of God was reawakening the church to the truth that God’s Spirit equips us and mobilizes us for service in the church and the world.  Some teach, some administer, some give – but all use their gifts so that God’s church flourishes and God’s world is renewed. 

Knowing your gifts gives you clarity about how to serve.  God has blessed me with gifts of leadership, teaching, discernment, and prophecy.  So I’m more inclined to want to wrestle with solutions to tough issues and paint a picture of a vision for a new future than to visit people in the hospital.  These are the gifts God has given me.  And I am thankful to God that there are others who have the gifts of mercy and compassion to visit those who are in need.  Together we serve our God making Immanuel CRC his force in Ripon. 

I am convinced that if everyone knew and used their gifts as blessed by God the church would be an irresistible force for God’s kingdom.  God gives us gifts, not for our purposes – to build our nest egg or make our kingdom greater.  God gives gifts to pursue God’s kingdom.  We won’t realize the full benefit of our gifts unless we use them for God.

I once talked to a man who clearly had a knack for making money.  I told him that making money was only one half of the gift God had given him.  The other half, the fun half, was using the money to make a difference for God in the world.  So he began to fully unleash his gift by using the money he made for many purposes – establishing short-term mission opportunities, funding ministries in the broader community, supporting efforts to enhance marriages through weekend conferences/seminars.  He began having immense fun unleashing his gift of giving – making lots of money, giving lots of money so that God’s purposes were pursued.

Now, spiritual gifts aren’t meant for inside the church only.  Members can discover their gifts for compassion or mercy and can become shepherd leaders in our congregation or tutor children at the local school.  Members discover their gifts for prayer and lead in congregational prayers at our worship services or pray on neighborhood walks.  Those with the gifts of administration get involved in our ministry committees or Governing Council or they might take up a role with City Council or the Ripon Unified School board. 


So what are your spiritual gifts and how can you use them in Immanuel and the broader community?  Feel free to leave your comments below and let’s encourage each other for how God has shaped us into his community with many members and many gifts.

Who Are We? - ICRC's Mission Conversation, Part 2 - Disciples Called by God

(Over the next week we will be focusing on seven areas of the mission statement of Immanuel CRC)

"Immanuel Christian Reformed Church
is a multigenerational community of disciples
called by God to utilize our spiritual gifts
by growing in our knowledge of and passion for Jesus Christ,
joining in relationship with others,
and serving God in the renewal of His creation." 

Disciples Called By God - We humbly walk in an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Every once in a while the kids on our court will play some version of the game "Follow the Leader." I always thought that game was great...for the person leading. Everyone else has to follow the leader and do exactly what the leader does. If the leader climbs a tree, everyone else climbs the tree too. If the leader spins in a circle, everyone else spins in a circle too. The possibilities are only limited by where the leader wants to go. After that everything else is just following.

We have a lot of stories about Jesus and his disciples. Being a disciple of Jesus meant following him everywhere. Listening to him teach, walking with him through the country side, visiting the houses he visited, seeing and even participating in the miracles he performed. The disciples followed Jesus in everything that he did while he taught on this earth.

Have you ever thought about the things that aren't recorded in the Bible that the disciples must have saw or participated in as disciples? The mundane walks, the sleepless nights, the confusing stories, the loud dinner parties, that time Peter stepped in...mud...

Being a disciple of Christ means following him everywhere. Everywhere includes a lot. Actually, it includes everything. Being a disciple of Jesus means following him at church, at home, at work, at school, at the mall, on the road, at the gym, while traveling, and everywhere else you may find yourself or think of finding yourself at any time...ever.

And not just following but not paying attention. Being a disciple means following intently. Always wondering what the master is up to. Always listening for the next teaching. Never wanting to miss a single thing. Being open to the close, personal, and deep conversations.

Being a disciple isn't always easy by our standards. It takes intentionality and a willingness to step out on a ledge away from the comfortable at times (or all the time perhaps). There are lots of things that hold us back from discipleship. Fears, worries, other things we are committed to, lack of time, laziness... But in the end it is hard for us to escape that calling. We are called to be disciples of Christ, called by God to follow without question. This may mean sacrifice and hardship. It may mean putting other things that we have always held dearly down a few notches.

For me, being a disciple of Christ, called by God, means actively listening for God's will and striving to follow it all the time. I don't always get that right. But being a disciple means picking up and following again tomorrow none the less.

What does it mean for you to be a disciple of Christ, called by God?