Trials of Various Kinds

Right now I am crying.

I am twenty four hours away from being done with my orals exams to be licensed as a pastor (credentialing). For me, it has been a grueling process. I have sacrificed time with friends, doing things I enjoy, and most terribly, my integrity and love as a husband and father. I am so grateful for my family’s patience and grace. My priorities were shortsighted and based on a selfish heart.

I am going on 2 hours of sleep in two days. I feel under-prepared, nervous, and defeated. My body aches, I have had a headache for days now, and the darkness forming around my eyes matches well my emotional state.

I keep thinking about disappointing my examiners; men who I love and respect. I keep remembering how few Scripture verses I know and can cite to prove my points. I keep dwelling on how underdeveloped my thoughts are on various theological and biblical issues.

But none of that is why I am, right now, crying.

I took a break to scroll through my twitter, on which I informed the world, once again, of my coming exam. While scrolling through a sea of tweets, I queued up a song called “Babe Yetu” on my Spotify. It is the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili, originally created for one of my favorite video games ever (Civilization IV). I love hearing the praise of other tongues.

As I listened to that song, I scrolled past a tweet that was much like all the others. But it stopped my dead in my tracks (or at least in the rhythmic motion of swiping my thumb over my phone).

All I read was…

“A new video appears to show the shooting and beheading of about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya.”

It was 97 characters that totally reformed my entire thought process for tomorrow’s exam.

I cried because I’ve been sitting here moping and beating myself up because of my procrastination. Last night, my wife called me over to her side and started praying for me. I was so grateful for her amazing act of love. But, I was also disappointed that she does not realize how unprepared I am (or at least feel).

But what I am truly disappointed in now is my failure to realize…

…that I am blessed beyond most faithful Christians in the world because I live in a nation where my faith is comfortable and I have more than enough tools for success.

…that while I sit here and drown myself in a pool of my own narcissistic pity, there are brothers and sisters in the Lord that are being drowned in pools of their own shed blood.

…that I am a product of so many evils.

The next tweet I saw was this:

“Prone to wander Lord, I feel it prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it seal it for thy courts above.”

Father, I thank you for the incredible gift you have given me this day. Tomorrow I get to see my exams as the blessings they are.

Whether I pass or fail, I am proud of the men, women and children throughout the world who firmly stand face-to-face with adversity, hate, and death; who declare in the face of the purest evil that Christ is LORD.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

A Good Name is Better Than Precious Ointment

It happened.

“Pastor Jared, would you please close us in prayer.” –Pastor Randy Brown, Grace Bible Church of West Allis, Wi.

It was the first time I was called “Pastor” publically, in any sort of functional, official capacity. I have been called Pastor before, but this time I was sitting in a room full of men at a breakfast Bible study hour as the newly added Intern Pastor Jared Kusz. This time it felt… different; weird.

The next day was my first Sunday morning attending Grace Bible Church as part of the congregation and family. After the great praise music and some brief announcements I was asked on stage and commissioned for ministry as Pastor Jared Kusz. Alright, there is no going back now. The two men that have taken me on as a disciple, Pastors Les Takkinen and Randy Brown placed their hands on me and prayed for my ministry. I have been sent. I have been tasked with the responsibility of being a vessel for the Gospel message of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

But despite how new the title feels, the identity is old. Old… but not stale. Is it an identity placed on me before the beginning of time (yes, that phrase does not make sense on a technical level. I digress). God made me and has been preparing me my whole life for the shepherding of his saints.

However, I cannot help but be thrust into the internal self-conflict of the name debate. Do I embrace the title of Pastor and encourage the use of the title. Or, like most, do I battle it. Do I climb up the steep hill of insistence; practically begging that I simply be called… Jared. My initial response, and answer to that question, is to insist, when appropriate, that my name will suffice. But here is where that becomes difficult for me.

I consider myself more of an under shepherd to Christ Jesus, the Great and Almighty Shepherd, than I do Jared. I am more than a J, A, R, E, and D. My name is nothing. I am nothing. It is only the Gospel that must be seen when eyes and hearts are aimed towards me. I do not serve myself or my name. I serve Adonai. It is the LORD who works. The Holy Spirit penetrates hearts and spurs towards action. It is the God of the sparrow that provides. It is Jesus Christ who pulverizes death through the act of dying. I must die, that I may live.

Image

In my life, it will not matter what people call me…
As long as they call themselves “His.”

I am not Jared Alexander Kusz. I am pastor. I am shepherd. I am His.

Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Who Shall Separate Us?

Some  people learn to swim by being tossed into the water without assistance.
All Christian ministers learn ministry by being tossed into the messy, beautiful waters of Church.

This morning I submitted myself before the will of God; placing me in a situation that I knew must be—that I knew I was called into. A few months ago, when the opportunity to move to West Allis, Wisconsin to become the Intern Pastor at Grace Bible Church landed in my soon-to-be Grace Bible College graduate lap, I knew it would be hard for many reasons. But, what is it that stirs an unrelenting desire to share my feelings on ministry difficulties when my entire day consisted of ride a train, get off said train, get on another train, ride that second train, talk to Pastor Les, and get lost trying to figure out how one is supposed to navigate the Taco Bell parking lot? Good question, me.

I knew as that soon-to-be graduate guy that the very first difficulty I would face would be one of the scariest, ugliest, most vile monsters that lurk beneath the beds and within the closets of many, if not all, pastors. This is difficulty that is a hard fought reality of ministry life. It is one that many people outside of ‘full-time ministry positions’ may not understand. It is the only true ‘hardship’ that I have faced in my seven hours in West Allis thus far. Its name is. . .Image

L o n  e  i    l    i     n     e      s                  s    

I’m sure that may be a weird concept to some? Really, how does someone who gets paid to be with people get lonely? It all comes down to the role of a pastor. Literally, one who is called to shepherd, guide, feed, nurture, and care for the people of God. And when it is your responsibility to care for all the people, it is rare and difficult to have the level of friendship with someone within the congregation that provides a catalyst for healthy, care-free expression and revitalization. Because as soon as you are ‘best’ friends with someone in your church, you are no longer a fair shepherd in the eyes of your flock. Many men and women in ministry have a spouse to help them through. Thank God for that. Seriously, pause and thank him. He deserves it. Marriage is an amazing blessing. But a wife just sometimes is not enough to satisfy the social needs of the man behind the collar (a mere expression for those like myself who wear no collar). People need to be in community. Jesus had his close three (John, James, and Peter). And he needed that elder board of close friendships. But, even that type of relationship is hard when the ekklesia that we are a part of today looks nothing like that of Jesus and his cohorts. Pastors often have to deal with those close ministry companions as business partners and not as understanding friends. And, so I encourage those pastors who do not have other men in their life to build close relationships with, find a man in ministry who has no association with your church and, as us young people say, ‘hang out.’

Now I am in West Allis, where my closest friends will have to be Pastors Les and Randy. There is nothing wrong with that. But I look back to the day before I sat on the train headed for Chicago (and the eventually Milwaukie) and I can’t help but think that maybe that is a feeling I will always have nailed to the cross that I carry. I remember saying farewells to my newly married best friends Mitch and Amber… and making the interaction as brief as possible to avoid crying. I remember saying good bye to my family as quickly as possible for the same reasons. I did that with Jason, Mark, and Kayla as well. It was a pattern, a habit that I formed weeks prior with people like Rick Pilieci and the Winegar brothers. And then there was the time I said goodbye to my dad, the man who has always been the most influential and important person in my life; the one person that I love more deeply than any other man—we said our salutations with brief words (we aren’t much for talking) and then he left my house in Grand Rapids with a truck bed full of my stuff. I turned around, walked into my bathroom (so that my girlfriend Alise and her daughter Audrina would not see me), sat on the edge of my bathroom tub, and cried. And cried. And in cried. In silence. The feeling of loneliness was hitting hard. I let feelings of regret and self-hatred for making the decision to leave control me. They were sinful lies that I needed to be rid of (I am happy and blessed to be doing God’s will). But no matter where my thought train rolled, I still couldn’t help but sob. I remember my girlfriend yelling in to see if I was crying and if I was alright. Of course, I lied to her (sorry dear). I’m an eight on the ennegram chart (if that means anything to anybody). It means I have a need to be rock; to be a leader that isn’t seen as weak. So, I lied. I lied every time she asked me whether I was crying or not. I did this to the point when I had to say goodbye to her (the hardest one to say goodbye to) and sat there in my blue recliner ‘balling my eyes out’ (crying quite a great deal). She looked me straight in the eyes, tear carrying a bit of her mascara down her cheek, and asked me why I was crying. I insisted that I was not crying as a nearly hyperventilated in front of her. And I knew I was going to cry. The night before as I was packing my house I had to stop, sit down, and just let it all out—every single time I saw something that my dad or my girlfriend gave me.

I left my parents, my grandparents, my best friends, my mentors, my rabbis, my colleagues, and my favorite table tennis racket and I left for Wisconsin. Loneliness is a real part of ministry. It happens when the call to another church comes. It happens when your spouse is the only person you have to talk to (and you should talk) about ministry. And you can’t say what you need to say because she can figure out who you are talking about—no matter how many details you omit on behalf of people’s identities. And it happens when you are the only person that knows the amount of rejoicing and suffering is required of a pastor.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.

Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied

It has been quite a while since my last post. I suppose the main reason for that is because I do not consider myself a blogger. To many, I will never be an interesting person or proficient writer. But, despite my lacking blog repertoire, I am and will always be an emotional person. And so it is with a heart saturated with deep pools of emotion and prayer that I write this specific blog.

I address these final words as a Grace Bible College student to the people of Grace Bible College. If you are a student, alumni, future student, faculty or staff member, or simply a friend of Grace Bible College, I hope you will find this short reflection worth reading.

Just a few short moments ago, I finished hosting the GBC Whose Line is it Anyway? Blue Stage Event. This was my third year acting as the Grace Bible ‘Drew Carey’ (former host of the television show of the same name). I was originally cast because I am overweight and occasionally make people laugh. I fit the bill perfectly. Even my hair and thick rimmed, black glasses matched the look of the television star.

I must be honest… I did not want to lead this Blue Stage. There was a heavy load of preparation work to do and it was the last week of classes. I needed to be in ‘finals mode.’ But, now that I am finished with what seemed like a successful night of improv comedy (thanks to my cast: Victoria Anderson, Andrew Clark, Cody Fuller, Katie Hitchings, Joe Johnson, Marc Mullinex, Hillary Rolff, Luke Williams) I cannot help but be swept away with grief as I weep here in my comfortable recliner in the house that I rent from the Youth Ministry professor Mark Carroll.

I weep with grief because I feel like I am losing an entire family. I have taken the people, memories, and events of this college experience for granted. I have laughed, loved, and cried with the people of Grace Bible College. This has been my home for four years. As I prepare to take the next step in life I cannot help but wonder what more I could have done. I could have participated more. I could have built stronger, healthier relationships. I could have made this campus a better place. I give credit to God for how he has used me to bless the people here. But, I also take the responsibility for my sins and actions that have caused pain and hurt and chaos for people.

While it is not true of my entire Grace experience, I must admit that I spent much of my time here angry, bitter, and drifting away from people and God. I made it my goal to Shepherd the flock of God that is around me here. But I often failed. While there were times when God and I were able to minister to people, there were also times when I was the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I therefore owe an apology to Grace Bible College. I apologize to the staff for when I spread malice and gossip about your work practices. I apologize to the teachers for every time I lied about why my papers were late. I apologize to the students for when I gossiped behind your back or thought of myself as better than you. I apologize to the community for not being an active member of the Body of Christ while being a student at Grace Bible College. And most of all, I apologize to our LORD, for every sin I committed intentionally and without intention.

Not many people will read this. But for those of you who do, please note that the purpose of this blog is not simply a vague apology to categories of people left undefined and unspecified. I write this to be an encouragement.

I encourage you, Grace Bible College friends, family, students, and faculty (of the past, the present, and the future), with my own GCB ‘ten commandments.’

1- Love God. Love God. Love God. For he is love and he deserves it. He will bless you through it. And if you love God passionately, he will make it worth it and he will take you on a journey that you could never have planned for and that will make you a newer better person. He is the forerunner of passion and zeal. Love him with that same passion and zeal that he has for you.

2-Love the people around you. Do everything you can to bring peace and order to the world of Grace Bible College. Go out of your way to encourage and lift up people. These people will someday leave you. But, that is only for a brief moment. So love them now with all your heart so that you may easily continue to love them when you meet again.

3-Pray. Always focus on the presence of God and pray. I can guarantee you from experience that if you pray for people, you will better love them. She may or may not know this, but Emily Renberg was an individual that I hated in sinful ways. But, I eventually started praying for her. Over and Over again, I lifted her up to God. And because of that, I am proud to call her my sister in Christ. She is an amazing woman and is doing amazing things for God. Emily, I am sorry. I truly am. So pray for people. Pray for enemies and for loved ones. pray for yourself and for your God.

4-Read your Bible. This is something I neglected in my years at Grace. You will be told multiple times to read your Bible outside of what is assigned for homework. But the sad truth is that you can survive four years at a Bible College and barely read the Bible for homework or personal time in the Word. Trust me. It’s possible. And that will whither away your relationship with God and with others. The Bible is the root from which all fruit grows. Take advantage of what is expected of you while here.

5- Play. Do not spend your entire time studying or practicing music or lifting weights. While that may be the main reason you fork over the big bucks for a private Christian college, that is not the only reason God brought you to Grace. Ecclesiastes is a good source for direction. Life may seem gloomy. But, it is more full of blessings and moments of pure, unfiltered joy than most people take the time to notice. Stop. Right now. Reflect. Enjoy. Sing. Praise. Pray. God is here. He is with you. You have his spirit inside you. Do you know what that means? It means that you are the temple of God. You are where heaven meets Earth. Enjoy. We are given eternal life. That does not just mean life that does not end. It means full, abundant life. It means an eternity of moments like the one I had as I walked home tonight after Blue Stage and prayed to God; listening to the sounds of a bustling concert chapel that followed Whose Line and to the sound of rain water dripping down a storm drain. Life everlasting. Life that is full with joyous moments that are real, and raw, and invigorating. Enjoy.

6- That being said, do not forget that you are here to prepare yourself to be a Godly individual. Do Study. Do practice music. Do lift weights and practice your athletics. Because those things are good. They are moments of growth and experience that God will use later to bless you and those around you. Be diligent. Do not slack. Do not procrastinate. Find value in the work you do; even if it seems like a pointless, waste-of-time class. Even if you are not the next Chris Tomlin. And even if you are not the next Tim Tebow. Follow the people that are here to help you with that. I think of some of the greats of my time at Grace: Coach Bailey, Dr. Loverin, Dr. Long, President Kemper, Brian Sherstad, Joyce Storms, Dr. Shaw, Dr. Schregardus, Kayleen Bobbitt, Mark Carroll, Kathy Molenkamp, Jan Seeley, Bev Wallace, Chef John, Linda Siler, Gary Spykerman, Dr. Werkema, Nate Johnson, Kevin Gilliam, Jim Peters, Kurt Postma, Tommee Profitt, Becca Zuber, John Spooner, and many more. Follow in the dust of your many rabbis.

7-Create. I have learned recently, thanks to classes like Theology and the Arts taught by Doctor M. Loverin, that we are all creators. There is goodness, and beauty, and truth in all that you do and make. So create something. Paint. Sing. Play an instrument. Preach a sermon. Teach a youth lesson. Tie a knot at summer camp. Write a poem or story. Make an exciting new beverage at the coffee shop. Dance. Joke. Pray. We are created by a creator that we may create. In the words of Makoto Fujimura, “What are you going to make today?”

Image

8- Don’t be too hard on yourself. I know I have broken this rule a bit tonight, but I think that expresses my credibility here. You are made by God. You are Good. It is not human nature to sin and mess up. It is human nature to do good and worship God and be free. So, when you mess up or you are tied down by the shackles of sin, don’t you dare think that defines you. It is natural to do good. So, consider those moments of beauty in your life the true definitions of who you are. You are not a bad person. You are not a bad singer. You are not a bad artist. You are not a bad student. You are not bad. You are good. You are a Child of God. You are a member of the Body of Christ. Free will wasn’t given to us so that we might sin. It was given to us so that we might be free to choose God. Choose to find your identity in the LORD that formed you. My identity is Pastor. It is Shepherd. I thank Gary Spykerman and God for helping me discover that. Discover who you are in God’s plan.

9- Serve. Take the time to get up once in a while and do something. Change the world. We as Christians should take care of the world and people because we serve a Christ that has promised us he will restore all things to himself. We must participate in that. We are the hands and feet and lips of God. He will not do the work while we sit at home and write blogs. We must show up to the front lines of the battles against poverty and oppression. We are called not just to be evangelists but to be helpers.

10- Weep. Weep with me. Do not be afraid of showing emotion. It is part of us all. One third of the Psalms are laments. Cry out to God. Express yourself to him. If you are angry with God, that’s okay. If you are saddened by loss or pain, that is okay. Life is not all roses. It is not all good. Life can suck. Don’t get me wrong, the good outweighs the bad. Christ is Risen. But, that being said, sin is still prevalent. Pain is still real. Do not hide behind a fake smile. You don’t have to be okay. Being a Christian doesn’t mean being happy and just because everybody around you might seem like they are happy and like they have it all together does not mean that they do. They are likely members of the same secret club of hurt, broken, messy people that hide behind smiles. Tell others your pains. Tell God your pains. Worship and lament and feel through those tough times in life. If you are depressed, seek help. Ministers need counseling. And we are all ministers. There is no shame in brokenness at the foot of the cross. Do not deny your heart. Guard it. Lead it. Share it.

I must also thank three men who have forever changed my life for the better. These men are fathers to me. They are leaders, teachers, shepherd, and rabbis to me. These men truly display the heart of God; full of Grace, Love, and Mercy. I will never be the same man again after following these men, and I thank God for that. I am forever indebted to you for your ministry in my life Pastors Gary Spykerman, Matthew Loverin, and Phil Long.

And finally my dear brothers and sisters,

walk in the ways of the righteous,

love people, love yourself, love God,

worship in all you do,

be at peace among those around you,

and get on your knees in prayer.

I love you. I will miss you. And I look forward to one day being with you again.

Forever your brother,

Jared Alexander Kusz.

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves

A Wolf or a Ram

“Who am I?” cries the watcher of thy many lamb
As the pressure of his Shepherd weighs profound,
A wolf in sheep’s cloth or a humble ram?

Is it humility he seeks? Before, bill or mimicked Graham,
Or perhaps the echo; the echo of the sermon sound?
“Who am I?” cries the watcher of thy many lamb.

“Adonai, Adonai, is it the devil or I, that says ‘Damn!’
Damn you vile sheep into the festering and fiery ground?”
A wolf in sheep’s cloth or a humble ram?

Ah! But what into each mouth does he cram;
The fodder of opinion or the Truth in Thy Word found?
“Who am I?” cries the watcher of thy many lamb.

For is he truly a humble ewe, called by the great I Am
to protect the flock from that fallen angel’s scheming hound?
A wolf in sheep’s cloth or a humble ram?

For Satan toils day and night, to continue his wretched scam
Of casting into the people of God, false teachers that he has crowned.
“Who am I?” cries the watcher of thy many lamb,
A wolf in sheep’s cloth or a humble ram?

 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Since the end of classes for this semester, I have had to work Sundays, which has left me unable to visit my home church in Muskegon, MI. And all day today I have felt incredibly hungry for a real, worshipful experience. I have longed to be moved. It was not a matter of finding God or relying on him. Those elements of my journey have been there. But, it was a matter of wanting to be so moved by the Spirit of God that I could no longer contain myself physically or emotionally. And I wasn’t having any luck developing this on my own. And so I was over-joyed at my opportunity to praise God at my home church. Yet, after church, I was left far hungrier than before. I felt quite discouraged.

But then it happened. God answered the unspoken prayer of my heart. I don’t want to say that God showed up because he is always here with me. But it is like God allowed me to finally stumble into something amazing. After doing laundry all day at my grandparents house in Muskegon (something that took much longer than I would have liked it to have taken… and yet, created the perfect timing) I started my drive back home to Wyoming, MI; during a thunderstorm.

The Power of God illuminates!

Now, I happen to love thunderstorms. I’m told I was born during one. Which, I suppose is why I have, in a sense, adopted thunderstorms as my personal reminder of God’s power and my rebirth in Christ.

My blessings came mostly through music. After listening to the Relient K version of Africa, i turned on Paul Wilbur and listened to some praise music celebrating the nationhood of Israel.

I cannot begin to describe the experience that these elements created.

As I chased this thunderstorm in my beat up Pontiac, wind blowing cool refreshing air and rain water onto my face, I sang aloud and shouted in praise to God.

“Adonai, Adonai”

[FLASH]

“Lord of eternity
The mystery behind the veil
Lord over Heaven and earth
God of Israel”

[FLASH] [FLASH]

“Come with Your wisdom and power
Clothed in Your honor and strength
Lord hear the cry of our hearts
Come O conquering King”

[ROLLING THUNDER]

“And every eye will see
Your glory fill the sky”

[FLASH- NIGHT SKY TURNS TO DAY]

“Adonai, Adonai,
Your glory fill the sky”

[THUNDER AND TEARS]
_______________________

God is amazing. And he gave one of the greatest gifts tonight… the perfect conditions to worship him. I love Adonai.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you

Today, after the Sunday morning church service the upper classmen high schoolers and the college age students met in my youth pastor’s office. Today’s lesson was a lesson about courage and having courage; not to be fearless, but to not be so selfish that we do not do what scares us when doing so would benefit others.  There are moments in live that make us afraid, and more often than not, our fear to do something (of good nature) is encouraged by selfishness. Sometimes good men fail to act because they are afraid. They are afraid of rejection or ridicule. This lesson spoke truth into my life that I have never considered. Up until yesterday, and even the later part of today (which I will discuss later) I had always doubted my calling to be a pastor. But, this lesson helped me realize that my fears of public speaking; of rejection or ridicule were stopping me from pursuing what God has called me too. Now is the time to abandon my fears; my doubts. I love you, Lord. Help me to shepherd your flock that is around me.

Later in the evening I was helping out with Chris Thompson’s Sunday evening high school youth group. After some time of praise and a brief lesson about Paul’s conversion, Chris asked the students to separate and go off for a time of reflection. I wasn’t sure whether I should stay in case students wanted to talk or if I should lead by example by going off for some solitude. I decided to take the moment to have some alone time with God, who has been strongly working on my heart the past couple of days. It was in this moment that I truly felt the Spirit of God working in me. For the first time in a long time, the Spirit truly welled up inside me and overtook me with such force that i literally trembled in excitement. God was affirming the calling that he made clear the night before. Once again, God helped me to discover what my heart’s true desire is. I am called to be a pastor. I want to shepherd a flock. I want to feed and nurture my sheep. God, thank you for affirming in me your will. I have never held more excitement and joy within my heart than I do now as I long for the pulpit.

1 Peter 5:1-5
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

“If God will be with me and protect me on this journey”

Today, Berean Church of Muskegon, Michigan celebrated its 90th anniversary. I could not imagine a more suitable date to start this blog. Berean Church is my home church and my family. I do not feel as though I could fully express the pure joy and pride that was flowing through my veins as the church reflected upon the rich history of its 90 year-long ministry. The program in the sanctuary of our church honored the many Godly men and women that have faithfully served Christ through the ministries of Berean. We heard testimony (both in person and through letters) of many people who felt that God was truly at work in their lives while ministering to my church. We heard stories of great people and great ministries. It was an inspirational moment for me. How could it not be, when surrounded by servants such as: Frosty Hansen, Gary Spykerman, Craig Apel,  Dwight Reed, and many others? Testimony was shared about the previous pastors, worship leaders, and influential lay people. I’m so thrilled to be a small part of this historic congregation. I, like hundreds or thousands of others, will forever be in debt to the foundation in Christ that Berean church has given me.

The name “Berean” comes from the
New Testament book of Acts, chapter seventeen, verse eleven.  There we
read that the Bereans (residents of the city of Berea) “received the message
with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul
said was true.” 
It was with this same intense desire to study God’s Word
and to know the truth that Berean Church was formed.

The church actually began as the
result of reactions to a controversial book.  In 1917 the church’s founding
pastor, Pastor Harry Bultema, published a book on the subject of prophecy.
Written in the Dutch language, the book was titled “Maranatha” (an Aramaic
expression meaning “Come Lord Jesus” and transliterated into the Greek text of
I Corinthians 16:22.).  As its main thesis the book presented Pastor
Bultema’s conviction that Jesus Christ would return to earth before the
establishment of His kingdom here (a doctrine called Pre-millennialism).  The
book also made a distinction between God’s future plans for the nation of Israel
and His plans for the Church of today, which in Scripture is called “the Body
of Christ”.
  At first the book was received with great enthusiasm, over 2000
copies being sold in the first month alone.  However, because Pastor Bultema’s
theology of future events was now in conflict with that of his denomination (the
Christian Reformed Church), he could no longer serve as one of its
pastors.

On April 4, 1921 the First Berean
Reformed Church of Muskegon was organized, later simply to be called Berean
Church.  The congregation’s first meeting place was a large warehouse type
building with a sawdust floor.  It was, and still is, located on Iona Avenue in
Muskegon, near the train tracks.  It was built by the men of the church in just
four days and had seating for 1,000 worshippers.  The congregation fondly called
this place “The Tabernacle”.  It was their temporary “tent in the wilderness”
from April through October of 1921.

On November 13, 1921 the
congregation and pastor moved into their new church and parsonage on Terrace
Street in downtown Muskegon.  And on the last day of the year 1942 the mortgage
was burned.  In 1967 the facility on Terrace Street was enlarged by the addition
of the Bultema Memorial Educational
Building.

In 1985 the congregation
relocated from downtown to Norton Shores and to a beautiful new facility on
Seminole Road.  At the present time, in response to a growing ministry to
families, the building has been expanded by the addition of four new children’s
classrooms and by a Family Life Center.

After faithfully caring for his
flock for 32 years, Pastor Bultema went to be with the Lord on September 9,
1952.  He was a passionate student, preacher, and teacher of God’s Word, who
loved to proclaim “the unsearchable riches of Christ”.  He was also a
prolific writer of books, pamphlets, and magazine articles.  Several of his
books, including “Maranatha,” have been republished in recent years.  And so,
through the words of truth that came from  his pen, “by faith he still
speaks, even though he is dead”

(Hebrews 11:4).

Pastor Bultema was followed at
Berean by Pastor William Burcaw from 1954-1955; Pastor William B. Hallman from
1955-1963; Pastor Paul Hume from 1965-1973; Dr. James Carlson from 1974-1986;
Dr. Jack Dean from 1987-1991; and Pastor Wayne Bickel from 1992-1998.  Our
present pastor, Craig Apel, began his ministry here
in 1999.

To be continued…until Jesus
comes again!

The reason that I share all of this information is not because I necessarily think those who read this blog would be interested in the history of the local church that brought me 7th grade and led me to a saving faith in Christ. No, I share this because I love my church and because my church has given me a great love for The Church. And, I share this because this 90th year anniversary of my church is a great symbolic representation of my calling in to ministry. God had a plan for this congregation 90 years ago. That was their starting point. God also has a plan for me. Never in my life have I felt more called to be a pastor and to share the truth of the gospel of grace and to shepherd a flock. God is continuing to use Berean Church and I am fully confident that he will continue to use me.

The purpose of this blog is to be an outlet for me to share my journey as I seek to be a pastor and a better minister.

For my brothers and sisters I leave this final thought (which can also be seen as one enters the sanctuary of Berean Church), Colossians 1:27 says this, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is

Christ in you, the hope of glory.