God-School Graduation Rates?

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out.
He’s treating you as dear children.
This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training , the normal experience of children.
Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God?
We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live ?
While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them.
But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.
At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain.
Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.’
Hebrews 12:4-11 https://my.bible.com/bible/97/HEB.12.4-11
As I write this, I think of several friends….

  • One is joined with her husband in the battle for his life against the ugly word – Cancer.
  • Another has a son in jail facing very serious violent crime charges.
  • Another has a son with an arrest record longer than my first college English paper.
  • Another has a daughter……

So what is the writer of Hebrews saying here?  I think he’s saying a couple of things:

1. Don’t be a God-School Drop Out.   Don’t rebel against what God is telling you because it’s for your own good.

2. Don’t look at the trouble in your life (as a friend of mine said last night, if anyone tells you they don’t have troubles, they are either lying or mentally unstable) as punishment.  Instead look at it as training – as Laura Story said (I’ve told some of her story before) – you need to go from being angry and saying, “Why God?” to saying, “How God?”   “This is the path you’ve set before me how can I be faithful to you and help others on it?

3. If you read the chapter before this, Hebrews 11, it talks about the heroes of the faith and so many of them never got to see what they believed in and never lived to see God’s kingdom here on this earth.

If you’ve been reading for a while now, I’ve told you some of what 2018 has brought my way.   It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Vanderwells.   On January 30, I had a medical procedure(surgery sort of) for the AVM (google it) in my left neck and shoulder to reduce risks of a brain bleed.   A very good think and the surgery was successful.   But remember how they always tell you that there is a “remote chance” that _______ or __________ could happen but it rarely does?

Hi, my name is rarely.   Without going into too many details, let’s just say my ears, my auditory system and my vocal system, none of them are working the way they used to.   Yeah, not fun.

So when I read in Hebrews 12 where it says, “The trouble you are in isn’t punishment, it’s training,” a couple of things pop in my head:

  • I’m glad it’s not because of something I did because then I’d feel guilty.
  • I find myself on a long journey from being mad at God and saying, “why?” to saying, “Okay, God, this is the new me, now what?”

Will we see the rewards for our efforts here?   Or do wait until God calls us home?

Only God knows,

TJV

It’s Different This Time? Really?

You know, I could come up with pages up pages of things that are wrong about today’s world.   I could come up with natural disasters, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, and other things that “happen” to us (humans).

And then I could come up with another list of evil and difficult things that people have caused or let happen – either on purpose or on accident.   Ask the people in Flint Michigan about their water.   Ask the people near the Wolverine Worldwide dumping grounds about this thing called PFAS. 

And then there’s the evil and corrupt things that humans do to each other.   Ever hear of Allepo?   ISIS?  Drug Cartels? 

Surely this is the worst time ever.   Surely there has never been a ruler as bad as ____________.   Uh, ever heard of the guy named Nero?  Yeah the Emperor of Rome?  Yeah, the guy who burned down a large part of his city – with his people in it.   Why?   So he could blame it on the Christians and have a reason to arrest and murder them.   And what did he do while Rome was burning?    Sat in his very fancy and very safe mansion up in the mountains overlooking Rome and played his violin.

That’s right, Nero fiddled  while Rome burned.

And then we come to I Peter 5 and Peter says:

You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.”  I Peter 5: 8-11

I’m not writing this for you so much as I am me……

  • Keep a firm grip on our faith.   This hard time won’t last forever.
  • God has great eternal and glorious plans for you and for me.
  • He gets the last word.

He gets the last word.

He – God – not you, not me, not my preacher (sorry Pastor Darrell), not what Paul wrote, not what John wrote, God

God the ultimate power of the universe, the maker and creator of everything and everybody.

God the one who knows whether a hair will fall from my head (and yes they are).

He gets the last word.

Is it different this time?   Yeah, it is.   But it’s still the same too.   There’s evil, there’s sin, there is pain, there is corruption.

But God still gets the last word.

May we all rest in that fact today.

Whether we’re having a good day or waiting to find out if our belongings and our home survived a hurricane or a cancer diagnosis or whatever.

God’s got this.

And he’s got the last world.

Tom

But Pastor….. (It’s Not About Me….)

Or him…..

Or her…..

Or the guy on TV at 9:00

Or the guy who spoke at CityFest on Saturday

…But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for— God has had it with the proud, But takes delight in just plain people. When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he’ll see that you’ve done it right and commend you lavishly. And you who are younger must follow your leaders. But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for— God has had it with the proud, But takes delight in just plain people.’ 1 Peter 5:4-5 https://my.bible.com/bible/97/1PE.5.4-5

There have been a large number (though I grant you 1 is too many) of well known preachers/pastors/church leaders who have seen their world and their ministries go up in flames and their reputations go down the drain because they didn’t follow Peter’s advice here.   What’s he saying?

Ministers, pastors, directors, church leaders, just be regular plain ordinary people.  Don’t act like you are something special just because you have a leadership role in the church.   Don’t act like you can get away with something because you are the lead pastor of a church that has 14 sattelite campuses and 3 coffee shops and 2 bookstores and……

You aren’t.

And actually, I wish that he would have taken this one step further and turned around and talked to the church members and said, “Now wait a minute, this applies to you too.   You don’t get to go around treating Pastor Bill like he walks on water because he doesn’t.   And if you treat him like anything other than a human being, eventually he’ll start to believe it (see above.)  And then you are part of the problem too.

Church needs to be about 1 thing.    A conversation with God.    It can take place in many ways and styles and volumes but if it’s about anything other than a conversation with God then we’re standing on shaky ground……

TJV

Looking at Old and Seeing New

Met a long time friend for coffee this afternoon.

Talked about kids, church, college, gap years, social media, health, her new job.

We talked about her new job – “It’s great! I get to do what I love 6 days a week!” (Did I mention she was my kids youth director prior to this?)

“Hey have you got a few minutes – you should come see our building?” It was a short drive.

As I pulled in the driveway, and throughout the tour, I thought, “You might have saw an old church building, I see new opportunities.”

You might see a building that is not in very good condition, I see a place that can be a solid foundation for kids with a less than solid foundation in their lives.

You might see the worn carpet and the creaky doors as a sign of struggle, I see it as God using His people to meet these kids where they are at.

You might see an old tired building that’s “past it’s prime” and not really good for much. I see a building that is full of stories.

Stories of good.

Stories of sadness.

Stories of life.

Stories of God.

Stories of God at work.

Stories of God’s people pushing back the darkness.

And many stories to come.

It’s called New City Kids and starting next Monday, they will kick off their 2018-2019 season of making a difference in the lives of inner city kids in Grand Rapids. Kids who need someone to care about them. Kids who need to hear about the love of Jesus.

Throughout the coming year, there will be a lot of kids showing up a New City Kids. There will be a lot of stories coming out of and through that old building.

Some of them will be happy.

Some of them will be sad.

Some of them will be easy.

Some will give you hope.

Some will make you hurt for the next generation.

I hope to be able be in a position to share the stories with you as time moves on.

I hope you’ll join with us and help influence these kids.

Stay tuned.

Tom

It all started….

(This was originally written for the “Reaching Out” newsletter at my church, Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, MI.)

It all started with a bulletin announcement…..
Soul Food Sunday will be held on July 29…….. It sounded like a good thing – some good food, a chance to talk to friends, a little bit of worship, a little bit of wisdom from Pastor Darrell. Yeah, I think I might like this……
We came early. You see, my teenagers are interns at church this summer and they had jobs to do. So, we had plenty of time. I think we showed up 45 minutes early – and for Madison, that’s early!
As I walked in the back door, something strange happened. There were people sitting down at the tables already! They were waiting patiently and were talking to each other and greeting others and all seemed very friendly and happy to be there. Comfortable, yeah, that’s the word – they seemed comfortable. I didn’t recognize any of them.
As it got closer and closer to 5:30, more and more people showed up. The noise level grew but there was something really cool about the noise – it was all upbeat, all positive, all happy to be there. As you looked around, you couldn’t tell who knew each other for a long time and who just met. Who have been members of Madison for years and who was living at Mel Trotter? They all just blended together.
And the people kept coming. And coming. You remember the story in the Bible about the king who threw a party and many of his “friends” were too busy to come? And so he sent his servants out into the “highways and the by-ways” urging anyone and everyone to come. Remember that story? Well, it turns out that Madison Church’s efforts on Wednesday nights brought them in.
And the people kept coming. And coming. And the tables were all filled – no problem, we’ll get more tables out. And those tables were filled – and there was no more room on the floor – no problem – we’ll put tables up on the stage.   
And the people kept coming. “I hope we don’t run out of food,” said one. “I hope we don’t run out of plates,” said another. And we didn’t. And many many people enjoyed good old fashioned soul food – ribs, cornbread, greens, you name it, it was good!
But that was only the beginning. The Gospel choir led us in songs that are still resonating through my subconscious. And then God opened the doors and handed Mrs. Kia (Pastor Darrell’s wife) the microphone. Was it an amazing story? (If I were reading this to you, I’d be asking for “Amens!”). Yes, it was. But it wasn’t amazing because Mrs. Kia is amazing. It was amazing because God is amazing and God uses broken people and tough situations for His purpose. God spoke through His servant and I know that many lives were touched. Many people who might not feel comfortable in a regular church setting came, enjoyed the food but also were touched by God’s hand through it all.
Soul Food Sunday – way more than just a church dinner. It was a coming together of people – the neighbors, the church members, the forgotten ones in the shelters – they were not forgotten. Everyone’s story mattered but none of the stories mattered. We were all there because God loves us – imperfect, screwed up, messed up people that we are.  
And that’s what I had for dinner Sunday night. 

Soul Food.

Tom