Thursday, June 11, 2015

In FIVE (5!!) Short Weeks

There are big changes on the horizon for the Vermeulens. Not just the baby coming--that is happening too, at the end of September most likely. There is another change to announce as well. 

For those who are local and already aware of this news, this post is intended to clarify the reality that we've perhaps not been clear or firm enough in saying over the past couple weeks. 

We are moving to Casnovia, Michigan. I will be stepping into a role as a pastor at Casnovia Reformed Church (henceforth CRC). Casnovia is a village of about 300, situated a mile from a town of about 2,000, about 15 miles north of Grand Rapids. Yep, we're becoming country folk! We anticipate this being a nice change from where we currently live in a busy suburb of Orlando. 

The church has been in existence for about 50 years, but has struggled for the past 4-5 years to maintain sustainability. For those familiar with ministry language, this is a revitalization project.  They say revitalization is just as hard, and sometimes harder, than planting a new church. But I've spent time via Skype and in person with the people of CRC. The core group of about 30 people has been together for a long time and are a family. They have realized that it's time to make some changes as a church in order to welcome new folks into their family so that this local expression of Christ's body can go on in years to come.  We've talked through quite a few issues, including a new vision and goals, and sense that the church has great potential to flourish once again. 

Our friends Nate and Andrea Deward, whom we served alongside of at LifeSpring Church in Fish Hawk FL, have been working on a temporary basis with CRC to broker a smooth transition. Initially I will revamp the music ministry of the church and preach 1/2 of the time, while Nate and Andrea remain on board preaching and assisting with leadership.  In January of next year, I will take over all responsibility, effectively serving as solo pastor. 

If all goes as planned, we will load the moving truck on July 18, and roll out of Florida the next day.  As I mentioned above, that's only 5 weeks away! The only contingency on this, and the reason that we've waited so long to express this to everyone, is that I have an interview next week in Grand Rapids with a committee from the denomination that the church is part of (RCA). This committee oversees my ordination process within the denomination, and the interview is the final piece that I need to pass in order to be approved to come under care and be granted a preaching license. Full ordination in the RCA will take a couple more years to complete.

I've been told by the committee leader that this interview is not just a formality, but is intended to assess my readiness to work in ministry and become a pastor. That's why there is no 100% guarantee. It's been a bit frustrating having to communicate it this way to everyone, particularly since there is only a month between the interview and the scheduled moving date. That's the way the timing has worked--the interview couldn't be scheduled earlier, and the move couldn't be pushed back, mainly because Anne is so pregnant!  So Anne and I decided this week to set our hearts and minds and communicate to others that we are going. It's time to get organized for a move and begin saying our goodbyes. 

Goodbye is painful. We are overwhelmed with the weight of saying goodbye to family and to dear friends we have here in Orlando--Anne's best friend and her husband, some men from a small group of guys I'm in, and the many people from Grace Orlando, past and present. While goodbye is tough and awkward, the best way to do it is to just let it be difficult. Feel the weight and sadness of it, because the sadness means that something very significant relationally has happened. We are incredibly grateful for the many people who have shared their hearts with us, loved us, supported us, and given us gifts of varying kinds big and small over the years. We know that 5 short and already busy weeks will not be enough time to say goodbye to everyone properly, but we hope to have whatever chances we can to say them.  

There are some friends and family in Michigan awaiting us, besides the new church family. Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, and my brother and his family--their kids will be a great playmates for Aidan and Brendan (and Baby #3!). In just a few weeks, everything will be new for everyone in our family. Please pray for special, large measures of peace and a spirit of adventure as walk through it all.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." --Joshua 1:9. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Frustration, Control, and Maturity

My fellow blogger Leanne Penny had a post last week in which she said this: "Do you know what frustration is? It’s the conflict between expectation and reality."  

I mentioned this idea yesterday in my sermon at Motion Church, but was yet again forced to reckon with it this morning, as happens often when I'm driving, by the myriad of red lights.  Red lights in Central Florida are just RIDICULOUSLY long, like nowhere else I know.  I hit the one my friend Kelly calls "the nexus of the universe" just as it turned red, so I checked up on twitter.  Then after 4 minutes, I got to move a whole 400 feet to the next red light.  Then a 1/4 mile later I hit another epically long light which everyone wanting to go to Starbucks Maitland is now forced to wait for. 

Here are the thoughts as they flowed, all in about 10 seconds: 
OK, you're frustrated. 
Because you expect that all lights should just be green for you within 10 seconds or less.  
And that's just not reality.
Are red lights really in your control anyway? 
Mature people don't often get bent out of shape about things out of their control. 
Accept that this is out of your control and use it as a moment to connect with God. 
Hi, God. Sorry for not loving you in that moment, which I preached about just 20 hours ago. 

*Light turns green. 
*Guy in big luxury SUV in front of me is not paying attention and takes 5 seconds to hit the gas.
*The cycle begins again. 

Thankfully, God's love is faithful, sure, and steadfast.  And patient. Eventually, slowly, I will learn to just let these things go right in the moment they happen, and control what I can, which is my attitude. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: Leaving Egypt

I posted this on Amazon, but figured I would post it here as well:

Over the years, Chuck DeGroat has studied and listened to many different voices and perspectives in the areas of theology and psychology—and how those two intersect in Christian Spirituality. He has done masterfully in navigating a path to clarity in describing a humble, honest relationship with God. Chuck does a superb job making his main point, and yet managing to know the variety of readers and what they’re thinking as they read.

It would be hard to summarize that main point, but if I could try: All Scripture is God’s gift to us, to help us get to know God and ourselves. As we read Scripture, Scripture reads us. In this way, Chuck takes the Exodus narrative and really unpacks it creatively and articulately as it relates to the way we live with God. He shows clearly, through the lens of his years of study and working with people in classroom, church, and counseling settings, how the story of Israel is so similar to our stories today. As a whole, the book is the beginning of a framework for understanding ourselves, coupled with a challenge to enter more fully and deeply into the story of our lives with God.

Two quotes that reflect basic points of the book:

--We compensate [in destructive ways] for the difficulties we experience early on in life. And we find ourselves living under the power of slavery rather than entering into the life God offers” (151).

--“This ancient story teaches us that freedom is truly difficult to embrace. Living into God’s liberating story for our life comes at a price. A wilderness awaits. But the wilderness is also where our lives begin to be redefined” (75).

Particularly helpful for me (once understanding the foundation of the first half of the book) was the chapter on the Beatitudes, where Chuck really hones in on the heart that Jesus is looking for. Talking about the cost of discipleship, Chuck says, “A life of messy spirituality, in other words, does not mean the freedom to cuss, to drink, and to dance just because you weren’t allowed to when you were a kid…Brokenness strips us of everything that is false in us, including the new personas we exchange for the older, rigid ones. It manifests not necessarily in a more raw or edgy ethos, but in humility” (211).

This book is helpful to a wide variety of readers from many backgrounds, including those who do not have a relationship with Jesus. Those who come from a very conservative Reformed background may take some issue with it, as well as those who adamantly reject modern therapeutic models. But the open-minded reader, willing and hungry to understand their lives and how pain and brokenness and suffering make sense in their walk with God, should find nourishing hope and connection in Leaving Egpyt.

You can read much more from Chuck at And to my old friend—well done, brother, well done.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Goodbye Orlando

Just writing that title seems so surreal! Eleven years in a place is a pretty significant chunk. Especially since it's where my real adult life began. Here I finally stopped sitting in classrooms after 24 years, dug into ministry full time, met and married a wonderful wife, and started a family. Each of those things are significant on their own. Add to it the many friends and the closest friends who have come and gone over the years here... It's quite amazing how much God has poured out loving mercies to me. His loving presence and grace has always been there, whether I've been bitter, angry, unaware, or simply living in survival mode, or fully engaged with Him.

The truck is packed. I'm exhausted but thankful, especially to three close friends who helped load up today. It's been a week of "lasts"--last meals at favorite restaurants, last days of school or daycare, last meetings with friends, and currently enjoying my last java chip from my favorite Starbucks. What I've sensed as I've experienced these "lasts" is that I've left my mark on the people here, and they've left their mark on me.

From the meat market manager, to the county ditch-digger, to the professors, to the men with whom I've walked and talked around campfires and living rooms, to the hundreds of men, women, and children at the various churches where I've served--most significantly Grace: All have been a part of how God is writing the story of my life. And I know that the chapter that starts tomorrow is a new CHAPTER, a continuation of the book. All that has come before is very important to what comes now.

To change metaphors, tomorrow beings a new journey with many firsts. Thankfully Jesus will already be where we're going, while also being here where we've been.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

White Knuckles

There's going to be lots of people "white-knuckling" it over the next few days in weeks. Whatever bad habits we want to break, or good habits we want to begin, at the start of a new year we always "try harder" and ratchet up our willpower to make those choices that we hope will help us be better people.
I was reading David Benner this morning about the how we often make obedience and doing the will of God in our everyday lives just like new year's resolutions:

"First, we become aware of some change we feel we should make--more exercise, more praying, less anger, less eating, more play or something along those lines. Then we determine to do the thing we are trying to choose, screwing up our determination and fortifying our resolve. In short, we chose things that are not naturally attractive by reliance on willpower...

"...Don't misunderstand me. Bolstering our determination in order to do important things is obviously crucial for living. And doing things that are not naturally attractive is essential if we are to live responsibly. But what a tragedy if we lump choosing God in with things that are not naturally attractive. Is it any wonder that the thought of surrendering to God's will evokes mixed feelings? Choosing God's dream for us feels like choosing to take bitter medicine" (Discerning God's Will, p. 18-19).

There are a TON of directions to go in just out of these two paragraphs. I find Benner to be the kind of writer that stirs heart and soul and completes thoughts to many of the questions he sparks in my head as I read. I look forward to the remainder of the book.

The reality is that because of the fall it is not naturally attractive to us to choose to say YES to God. The Serpent convinced Adam and Eve that we are not God's beloved. But, the reality of the redeemed heart is that because of the Spirit of Jesus in us, we ARE the beloved. Choosing to say YES to God can become naturally attractive to us over time. But so often we skip over knowing whose we are and where we stand with Him when we become aware that our souls crave more/better life. We attempt to "pray more" or even "surrender more" out of our own willpower. What if the first step is to come to God and simply confess the desire for more/better, which is at its core a desire for HIM, and our inability to achieve "better" on our own? What if we waited and listened and sought Him rather than (or as the foundation of) tightening up our belt?

(Incidentally, this is not the stuff you see on the grocery checkout shelves... this is that part about the foolishness of the Gospel to all of us, until we surrender and receive, that Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians.)

Benner says, "Surrendering to God's will makes little sense if we are not first convinced of the depths of God's love for us.... Learning to prefer God's way to ours and discovering our identity and fulfillment in God's kingdom way demands that we know Love, deeply and personally" (p. 15).

Hoping that in the many decisions you and I face at the start of this new year, we will be able to pause, even for a split second, and acknowledge our Traveling Companion, and surrender to His "good, pleasing, and perfect will."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks-giving is an Act

In this particular day, for whatever reason (though I think it has to deal with feeling a little worn down), I'm finding it somewhat difficult to feel thankful. There have been many times in my life where that meant I simply didn't give thanks. I numbed out, or went about my day, or continued to feel bad about whatever circumstance I was in.

The reality is that I have a TON to BE thankful for, whether I feel thankful or not. And sometimes, just the writing it, the act of thinking it and acknowledging it, can help bring the emotions in line. Giving thanks is an act of the will at this particular moment, one which I hope will spring up from deep in my soul and incline my heart to God.

Sidebar on "to God": I saw a great quote today on Facebook from Cornelius Plantinga Jr.: "It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful "in general." It's very strange. It's a little like being married in general."

Anyways, here goes. Thank you, Heavenly Father:
For Your precious, amazing, beautiful Son, Jesus
For the Bible, your very words, whereby I may learn and be fed and be transformed.
For the incomprehensible mystery that I may share in the life of Christ
For Holy Spirit living in me and guiding me

For the rich content of the books I've been reading this year that are drawing me closer to You
For the loving, life-giving friendships of the people around me
For my wife, who is a living, breathing, loving means of Your grace to me
For my son Aidan, who is making me feel completely inadequate as a father, thereby making me seek you daily for sustenance and grace to fail.
For my son Brendan, who is simply so cute and loving and mischievous and playful, he is a living picture of what you meant when you said, "Unless you become like one of these, you cannot enter the kingdom of God."
For parents who simply did the best they could, and who continue to love me and be available
For the many family and friends who offer prayers on my behalf.
and For hearing their prayers.

For this season of rest and renewal, and the freedom to let it be that as much as it has been.
For cooler temps to enjoy being outdoors and enjoy You there.
For a roof over our head, gas in our cars, plentiful food in our fridge and pantry
For the variety of music that helps me turn in awareness to You as I go about my activities.
For a forum to write, and gracious readers (all 5 of them...)
For helping my heart come just a little closer to you in gratitude as I write.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's a Dangerous Thing, Frodo...

"...Going out your doorstep. You step out onto the road, and there's no telling where you may get swept off to!"

Every time I read this line from Bilbo or get to it in the "Fellowship of the Ring" movie, tears well up. There is something about it; the sense of adventure, excitement, the unknown road ahead. Just now I began reading CS Lewis' The Horse and His Boy for at least the 10th time. It's another book about a long journey, you might say out of "Egypt," which is Calormen in Lewis' fantasy, to the homeland, the one Shasta was created for, Narnia--though he's never even heard of it until now. He and his new friend the horse embark: "Then, still at a walking pace, it went northward till the cottage, the one tree, the donkey's stable, and the creek--everything, in fact, that Shasta had ever known--had sunk out of sight in the grey summer-night darkness."

It's the same moment in the journey where Samwise Gamgee stops in his tracks, and Frodo looks at him, and he says, "This is it, the most amount of steps I've ever been from home." It's this moment that leads Frodo to quote Bilbo's line, above. It's the moment in Pilgrim's Progress when Christian dons his backpack and heads out of town, driven by a specific call and purpose, into a path that he's never been on.

It's the moment when Jesus sees Peter and John near the shore hauling in nets, and says, "Leave your nets, and come follow Me."

He calls each of us to such a journey as well, and he promises, "I will never leave you or forsake you." He invites you and I into the journey, an irresistible call, and promises we will have his companionship no matter what "weathertops", Mines of Moria, "Battles of Helm's Deep" lay ahead. He knows we feel completely ill-prepared for the journey. In fact, that's kind of how he wants it, because then we have to depend on him, and let Him teach us along the way. Will you step out onto the road? Have you already? What's he saying to you in this particular part of the path? Fix your heart and mind on Him, and keep walking.