Category Archives: Learning


This is an article I wrote for the February 17, 2016 newsletter for Fellowship Reformed Church

For the past few months I’ve been on a quest to remove clutter from my life. I believe the reason for my desire to see things clean, orderly, and simple is because I will have to move out of my office at Fellowship by the end of April. This is something we, as a staff, will all be doing so the construction crews can start the office expansion and renovation. In this process, I’m seeing all of the piles of papers that need to be filed or shredded and the books that need to be sorted and donated. Sometimes this feels overwhelming and other times it makes me sad. The sadness comes from realizing all of the hopes and dreams that are tied up in objects. Some of the books look really great, yet I haven’t read them. Some of the papers might hold secret treasures that would have helped me make a better decision. As I write these words, I realize even more clearly how much energy all of these possessions and clutter take from me. Peter Walsh, author of many books about organization, has this to say about clutter:

“It means anything that stands between you and the vision you have for your best life. It could be a pile of inherited furniture or a jumble of kids’ toys all over the living room. But it could also be the constant self-doubt that creeps into your decision-making, anger about how you’re treated at work, shame about your weight or looks, or a tendency to respond defensively and critically when your spouse challenges you. Whatever the case, you have to ask yourself, “Does this item or thought or response move me closer to my vision for my best life?” If it does, great. If it doesn’t, what is it doing in your life?”

This past Sunday, Marlin Vis shared the story from Mark 10:17-31 about how a really good guy, who happened to have a lot of stuff, came to Jesus and asked what it would take to receive eternal life. Jesus tells him to remove the clutter because it is standing between him and what is best for his life. OK, I’m paraphrasing, but doesn’t this sound a bit like what Peter Walsh said in the previous paragraph? I hate to put Peter Walsh and Jesus in the same paragraph, but also recognize that both are speaking truth about the hold clutter and possessions can have on us.

So what might we receive when giving up those things that have a hold on our lives? Marlin shared two guarantees about what we receive when we choose Jesus over stuff:

  1. We will have enough (When we have more than enough, we share it with those in our community who don’t have enough).
  2. We will be made well.

I don’t know how this sounds to you, but it makes me feel energized to stop holding onto the security of clutter and start holding onto the promises of God. Enough! I need to go recycle some papers.

Trained vs. Untrained

I recently attended a safety and security presentation. One particular element that I found particularly interesting was how trained vs. untrained people respond during a crisis. It looks like the original source for the information is from the Center for Personal Protection and Safety


As you can see, the path for trained and untrained start in the same way but then take very different paths. It made me wonder about how these play out in all of our non-life threatening situations.

When I’m stuck, do I commit to action or descend into helplessness? Conversely, is it possible that when I’m feeling helpless I might need to respond with action?

Trust in His Story

My family and I have been catching up on Star Wars over this Christmas break. Yes, we even have Star Wars pajamas and a BB-8 (a small robot in the new Star Wars movie) stuffed toy for our dog. Seeing the movie on opening night a few weeks back left us feeling a wide variety of emotions. J.J. Abrams, the co-writer and director of the film, has said that the key for the film was to return to the roots of the first Star Wars film and for the story to be based more on emotion than explanation (here). We thoroughly enjoyed the adventure the movie took us on, but at the same time there were many moments that made us long for a resolution and feel sad. At the end, even with this mixture of feelings, we celebrated that there would be additional movies coming in the future where we could have confidence that the story would resolve and where good would conquer evil.
This past Sunday Pastor Janelle Koolhaas shared how we can have confidence in God’s everlasting story (listen here). She shared how Simeon and Anna, both in old age, were at the temple waiting to meet the Messiah (Luke 2:25-38). They were able to meet him as a baby but did not get to live to see Him live, die, and rise again. They only saw part of the story but knew that God would be faithful to deliver His people as he promised.

We, too, often do not see the whole story but have a unique story that fits perfectly into God’s plans. We find in His word, the Bible, that His timing is not slow or mistaken. Many times we may feel confused or broken but we can rest assured that our story belongs, is valid, and fits right in. In those times we can also take comfort by trusting in God’s story and what He has done, is doing, and will do.

Often, in my work at Fellowship and my personal life, I find it helpful to step back from challenging situations and attempt to look at things with God eyes and in light of His bigger story. I wonder things like:

  • What makes the timing right for this to have happened?
  • What happened in the past that equips us perfectly for this situation?
  • Who has God called into the story at this time and why?
  • What is the best possible outcome that would show God’s faithfulness?
  • How has God equipped me to have a positive impact?

You can probably think of other questions that allow you to see things from God’s perspective. Ultimately, this is a way we can show our faith in Him. This makes me think of a gift my daughter painted for me this Christmas. It has words about faith from Hebrews 11:1-3 (NLT):

“(1) Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (2) Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. (3) By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”

I find great assurance in these words and have great hope for what God has done, is doing, and will do. You might also find comfort and assurance in reading and praying the following words from Psalm 146 over the coming days as an act of faith, hope, and love in being a part of God’s story:

1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!

Screaming Goats vs. Fainting Goats

This is an article I wrote for the Sunday’s Comin’ eNewsletter from Fellowship Reformed Church

Last week I discovered fainting goats on YouTube. Have you ever seen them? They are rather small and they have a strange reaction to being startled or scared–their muscles stiffen up and the fall over onto their side. Watching one video led me to more strongly entertaining goat videos which led me to screaming goats. What are screaming goats? They are goats that periodically make a scream that sounds strangely like a human. Now put screaming and fainting into the same video and you really have something special. Check it out here. I have to warn you, this video may induce serious laughter. In fact, it might even be contagious to others.

This past Sunday we laughed during worship when Pastor Brian helped us understand the ridiculous nature of Abraham and Sarah being told that they would have a child at such an old age (Abraham was 100). He talked about how strange it might be for someone to give birth in the geriatric ward. Can you imagine? In fact, Sarah knew we would laugh whenever we heard this story when she said, “‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” Genesis 21:5–7 (NRSV)

This story was acted out beautifully by some members of our congregation. At the moment of Sarah’s laugh Jayne went into a pose that elicited laughter from us all. In case you weren’t able to be with us in worship, here is a photo that was captured by Jordan Clegg:


Isn’t that a great moment? All this laughter made me want to learn more by asking my friend, Google. Check out these amazing health benefits:

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

I think I’m going to have to find more ways to incorporate laughter into my life. As we learned on Sunday, God’s grace should cause us to break into laughter with how unexpected and amazing it is. You can experience this by saying the following statements we heard on Sunday:

  • God loves me
  • God wants to be in relationship with me
  • God has saved me
  • God forgives me
  • God heals me
  • God is with me
  • God takes me as I am
  • God wants to use me for His will

Were you able to do that without breaking into a smile or maybe even a laugh? Can you believe it? The God who spoke our world into being loves you, forgives you, is in you, and gives you eternal life! This is the good news of the gospel.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ’For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’” Mark 10:27 (NRSV)

Fill It Up

This post was written for a Fellowship Reformed Church eNewsletter called “Sunday’s Comin'”

In July, we took a family trip with the goal of spending three days in New York City. We chose to stay in New Jersey at a hotel recommended by my Aunt and Uncle who live there. We could then commute into the city by water ferry or driving. On our first night in New Jersey we went to visit my aunt and uncle. We were running a bit early so we stopped to fill up with gas. In New Jersey, you are not allowed to fill up your own vehicle with gas. You need to wait for an attendant who takes care of it for you. Remember those days of full-service gas stations?

Fast forward a few days and we, after some wonderful days in New York City, started driving home. We found that we needed to fill up with gas again in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, like Michigan, allows you to fill your own car with gas. So, I got out of the vehicle and started filling up. As I was standing there a lady on the other side of the pump came over and said, “Excuse me. I’m from New Jersey and don’t know how to use this pump or remove the gas cap. Would you be able to help me?” I was happy to do so and showed her how to remove the gas cap from her car, insert the credit card, remove the nozzle from the pump, select the grade of gas, and start filling the tank. She was very appreciative.

As I headed back to my own vehicle, I thought about how helpless it must feel to own a car and not know how to put gas in it. Thankfully, she was willing to admit that she did not know how to do it and then ask for help. It would have been a very different exchange if she would have demanded me to fill up the car with gas by saying, “Excuse me. Fill up my car with gas.” I might have responded by ignoring her or questioning her motives. It was the act of admitting first and asking second that opened my heart to her story and made me more than willing to help.

I remembered this story when I heard Pastor Brian preach about confession this past Sunday. He defined confession as getting honest with self, others, and God about our brokenness. In a way, this woman at the gas pump had to confess that she did not know how to pump gas in order to receive help. I wonder what it might be like if we put ourselves in a similar posture of confession with an area of life where we might feel stuck and helpless. Would we then be able to have the courage to admit or confess in order to receive help or forgiveness and ultimately freedom?

What might you confess this week in order to more fully experience life?

1 Peter 2:4-5 “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (NRSV)

GLS15 Personal Reflection

The Global Leadership Summit this year energized, convicted, and inspired me. The following ideas have been key take-aways for me:

  1. A recurring theme through both days was that the disciplines that I continue to see as important in my life, yet are so hard to stay consistent with, are critical to my health and development and must continue to be an intentional pursuit (spending time with God in solitude, music, and physical fitness). In particular, I’ve been making sure to listen to more music!
  2. Horst Schulze ( ) was probably the speaker that shifted my thinking the most. He opened my mind to the service industry and how serving should come out of truly caring about and for others. I loved learning aboutthe movement of interactions with people which includes:
    • Welcome within 12 feet you need to say welcome or greet someone by showing care in the eyes
    • Comply to what a guest wants from you by caring for their needs
    • say farewell
  3. I loved listening to Brene Brown ( ). Her movements of “the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution” were a wonderful reminder on sharing the story we tell ourselves to others. She said under “the revolution” that “When we deny the story it defines us. When we own the story we can write the ending.” It was really good stuff and I’m “trying this on” in many of my relationships.
  4. Albert Tate’s message ( ) was a wonderful reminder, “The work is not about your name, it is about His name. It is not about your power, it is about His power.” I’ve found great peace in His message of relying on God and being blown away with what God can do when we simply bring Him what we have and rely on Him do the rest.
What impacted you?

Living in Change

This is a post I wrote recently for the eNews called “Sundays’ Comin'” from Fellowship Reformed Church.

As I am in my office writing, I can feel the building shake and hear the rumble of bulldozers and backhoes. This is the sound of change and signifies a new chapter for Fellowship Church as we look ahead to the construction of a sanctuary, repurposing of the existing sanctuary, and expansion of the offices. As this work begins, I continue to be thankful and excited that we get to be a part of this work. I also recognize that this change, for some, can also be disruptive, offensive, or annoying.

I have been thinking about change and how it impacts us. This was especially true when I attended a class last week taught by a futurist named Lloyd Walker. During this one day class I was exposed to how people think about the future and assist their organizations in preparing for it. One phrase stuck out to me during the day, “Time doesn’t create change; change creates time.” A friend explained to me that time only exists when there is movement. Maybe this explains why we feel like we have so little time when our lives are filled with rapid change.

On Sunday, Pastor Brian shared how neighbors and leaders felt about the change they were seeing as the wall was being rebuilt around Jerusalem. They opposed this change because they felt it was a threat to them. We learned how Nehemiah faced this opposition by praying in an authentic way, persisting in the work by remembering the vision, and finding strength in the promises of God.

I was stirred up by the idea of finding strength in the promises of God. Our unchanging God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). This means that he is outside of time. How cool is that? While everything around us is moving so quickly, we have a God who is steadfast and has already won the fight. He did this by sending Christ, His son, into time and winning the fight for all time.

Let’s remember who God is and what he has done for us and, as we read in Ephesians 6:10-11, “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

The Fruit of Patience

This is an article that I wrote for the April 15 Sunday’s Comin’ eNews for Fellowship Reformed Church

This past Sunday Pastor Brian preached about patience. After hearing the sermon, I started thinking of all of the times where I have had to be patient: waiting for healing from sickness, waiting for results from a test, looking for a new job, waiting for a special day to arrive, standing in line, sitting in a car in stopped traffic on the highway, repeating instructions to one of my children, and trying to learn a difficult passage of music. Now, as I write these down, they seem so trivial. Maybe this is part of the gift of the sermon on Sunday. We are able to see that times requiring patience can also be times for us to learn, grow, and be in a posture of submission to the will of God.

I am currently learning patience as I train to run two Tulip Time races on May 2. The first race is 5K and the second is 10K. I have never run 15K in a single day in my entire life. In order to run that distance, I knew that I would have to find some way to train over a long period of time so my body would have the strength to get through. So, I found a training plan online and mapped out what would need to happen each week in order for me to attain the goal. This is so challenging for me because I want to be able to “Just do it” without putting in all this time and effort. Each training run requires me to push aside comfort in order to push my body a little further. What is so intriguing to me is to recognize that my ability to be patient is increased when I am able to look back and see where I have been as well as look forward to see where I will be. The combination of the two give me hope in the moment. My patience is decreased when I choose, instead, to become frustrated or upset.

As I continue in my training, I am learning to see each run as a gift rather than a difficulty. These gifts include celebrating increasing strength in my body, experiencing the warmth of the sun, seeing signs of spring, covering distances that used to seem insurmountable, and receiving encouragement from others. Might there be ways for you to look for the gifts in those times requiring patience? This week we are challenged to practice patience by doing one of the following:

  1. Patience with God: begin each day with a time of prayerful reflection, asking God, “What is Your will for me today?” Throughout the day, pray Jesus’ prayer of surrender: “Not my will but Your will be done.”
  2. Patience with others: choose the longer line at the grocery store. Drive in the slow lane. Welcome an interruption. Be slow to speak and quick to listen in a conversation. Give somebody a second chance. Identify a relationship that is training ground for learning patience.
  3. Patience with yourself: Recognize the “shame voices” and remind yourself of God’s grace and love. Remember that transformation is not instant; it is a process, a journey. Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Give one of them a try and remember:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with on another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other…” (Col 3:12-13)

TEDx Macatawa 2015 Session 3f: Rev. Denise Kingdom Grier

  • the songs we teach our children are about falling and breaking
  • “We need more bridges” made with stately towers and can stand strong
  • like Verrazano bridge and
  • Lake Pontchatrain Causeway
  • “many struggles come into our lives but this causeway reminds us that [even in the storms] this bridge stood still and long without any damage”
  • Mackinaw Bridge” – longest suspension bridge in Western hemisphere, cover the chasm of uppers and lowers
  • we, our children in particular, need more bridges
  • “I can become slippery when wet. When the tears fall on my chest I can find it hard to forgive”
  • “I am a flawed bridge, but a bridge non-the-less”
  • “I stand strong, unmovable, I am a bridge”
  • “I am a bridge between the upper and the lower.”
  • “I invite you to consider with your lives how we might build a bridge…build it up with what you have”
  • “be a bridge with me”

TEDx Macatawa 2015 Session 3e:  Jeremy Blaney, Cross-Cultural Collaboration

  • “New World” moment of navigating other cultures
  • the world has shrunk
  • cross-cultural encounters are happening every second of every day
  • 74 million people come to the United States with International Tourism
  • we encounter people from other places frequently
  • Pure Michigan has attracted millions of people
  • economic and organizational gains come from cross-cultural encounters
  • many misunderstandings happen in cross-cultural encounters
  • ways to bridge cultures
    • Monologue (hear it, see it): tell the other who we are, all the power is with the recipient
    • Dialogue: 2 people sitting down and talking about differences
    • Collaboration: people working together on a project, “there is no substitute for meaningful collaboration” (shared experience)
  • “You, too, have a critical role to play in bridging the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them'”
  • Emma for peace: music brings people together
  • PeacePlayers international: bring people together in love of sport
  • Youth-to-Youth Summit: meet together to address a need
  • “There is much to be gained by sailing into the winds of cross-cultural encounters”
  • “Discover a world that is different from your own and design collaborations to help others do the same”