PRTS Graduation

We had a blessed evening last night with a great dinner and fellowship with our seminary graduates and their families, followed by the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary graduation of 28 theological students (our largest class to date) from 15 different nations, and the awarding of our first two honorary doctorates (photo 1, graduates with faculty, including Dr. Felipe Silva who earned a PhD, and two honorary doctorates, Dr. Neil Pronk and Dr. Franklin Ferreira who are on the first row, far right).

The Board of Trustees chairman, Kevin Ash, awarded the degrees. Our commencement speaker, Dr. John Tweeddale, spoke movingly to the students from Acts 1:8 about being witnesses for Christ (photo 2 of the speaker and photo 3 of the audience of about 600 attendees). I then gave a personal charge about living out of the triple office-bearing ministry of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king from Luke 22:31-32, and spoke some personal words to each student (photo 4) as well as to thank Dr. Michael Barrett who is passing on the baton of Academic Dean to Dr. Jonathon Beeke; Henk Kleyn who is retiring after serving PRTS faithfully for 17 years as the VP of Operations; Dr. Bill VanDoodewaard who served us well as church historian for 12 years and accepted a position VP of Academic Affairs and church historian at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary; and Dr. Greg Salazar who after serving us for 5+ years as PhD professor in Puritan theology accepted a call to serve as pastor in Savannah, Georgia. The imminent coming into the seminary of Dr. Bruce Baugus (systematic theology) and Dr. Maarten Kuivenhoven (church history) was also announced. The service concluded with the conferring of honorary doctorates.

Afterwards the fellowship was robust for another 1.5 hours in conjunction with delicious refreshments, and lots of picture taking with the graduates, including our son-in-law who received his MDiv degree (photo 5). God is good! Please pray that God will bless all these graduates with long, faithful, and fruitful ministries of preaching, teaching, church planting, and/or evangelizing in their various countries.

Ground Breaking for PRTS Addition

PRTS Expansion20130801_Ground Breaking0174

The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses. And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the LORD hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work.

—Exodus 35:29–33

I give you a warm welcome to the groundbreaking of the building expansion to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. As you can see, the contractors have already done a lot of work in preparing the site for the future parking lot. We are very excited about seeing our building grow in square footage by 90% and want to take this time to remember God’s grace.

The text which I have chosen for this occasion, Exodus 35, pertains to the building of the tabernacle, the sacred tent where the Lord dwelt with Israel in holiness, grace, and worship. The tabernacle was a construction project requiring the skills of workers in metal, wood, and textiles. It was a beautiful and useful place for the priests to work. However, the tabernacle served a far greater purpose than pleasing the eye and sheltering the body.

God’s purpose in redeeming a people out of Egypt was that He would dwell with them and they would know He is the Lord (Ex. 29:46). This was a type of His great purpose in redeeming His church out of Satan’s dominion by the blood of Jesus Christ: that they would know Him and He would dwell with them. In union with Christ, the church is our tabernacle, not a building but a living temple built with living stones of people from all over the world. And this is the purpose of our seminary. We do not believe in holy buildings, but we gratefully use buildings to build up the holy church of Jesus Christ.

This Scripture teaches us three truths about how God builds His dwelling place. All three are of great encouragement to us as we break ground for the addition on our seminary building. We may summarize them with the three key words we use to describe our seminary: heart, head, and hands.

Heart: God’s redeemed people give willingly to God’s work.

Exodus 35:29a says, “The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing.” God had made known the materials that they would need to build the tabernacle: gold, silver, copper alloy, beautiful textiles, various kinds of leather, acacia wood, and other items (Ex. 25:1–9). It would not be cheap, but would require over 2,000 lbs. of gold and 7,500 lbs. of silver (Ex. 38:24–25). But not only did the people give, but they gave with a “willing” heart. They wanted to give.

Where did the people get all this gold and silver to build the tabernacle? They were slaves in Egypt. Slaves do not own wealth. But when God redeemed them out of slavery, He caused the Egyptians to give them silver and gold (Ex. 11:2; 12:35–36). Redemption made them rich, and they were eager to give for the glory of their Redeemer. How much more does the experience of Christians lead them to give generously to the work of the Lord?

This is the first encouragement to us as we break ground on our construction of an addition to the seminary: God’s redeemed people give willingly. Out of their experience of saving grace, they delight to give their resources to the Lord. We have already seen such remarkable generosity. Isn’t it amazing that of the $3.1 million needed, that we have already received gifts and pledges for nearly $2.5 million? Why would people do that? They understand that our seminary’s mission is to build God’s holy dwelling place in every nation. The redeemed people of God are delighted to give so that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth. I want to thank every one of you who has given your support to this project both in prayers and financial gifts. Your prayerful generosity reflects that the redemption of Christ gives people a willing and giving heart.

Head: God’s Word gives the blueprints for God’s work.

Exodus 35:29b says that Israel gave willingly “for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses.” This is a great drumbeat that pulses through the last chapters of Exodus, that they built the tabernacle “as the LORD commanded Moses” (39:5, 7, 21, 26, etc.). God is holy, and His dwelling place must be constructed according to His Word, neither adding nor subtracting.

God did not tell us how to build our seminary addition. We had to find a skilled architect to do that for us, and we thank God for him. But God has told us how to build His church. The Reformed and Puritan vision for the church stands upon the great principle of sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is God’s authoritative revelation of what we should believe, how we obey Him, and how we worship. Our school is committed to the vision of Scripture alone. I thank God for the board and trustees of the seminary, who are profoundly committed to making this seminary a truly Puritan and Reformed institution.

This is the second encouragement for us as we begin this construction project. Like Ezra, we and our students have set ourselves to fill our heads with the Word of God, to obey it, and to teach it in the church—and therefore we expect for the good hand of God to be with us (Ezra 7:9–10). This is not about our merit, for our best works are riddled with sin. It is about God’s commitment to glorify Himself in His church through Christ (Eph. 3:21). Whenever people saved by grace seek to build God’s church according to God’s way, then they can confidently rely upon power of the Lord to strongly support them (2 Chron. 16:9).

God’s Word gives the blueprints for God’s work. Having spoken of the heart and the head, I now come to the third encouragement from our Scripture text.

Hand: God’s Spirit gives practical skills to accomplish God’s work.

Exodus 35:30–33 tells us that God not only gave the motivation and blueprint for the tabernacle, but he called a man named Bezaleel to oversee its construction. Verse 31 says, “And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” This man was gifted by the Holy Spirit, but not to be a preacher. The Holy Spirit filled him with skill to work with his hands as a builder and a craftsman.

If we confine the Holy Spirit to works like teaching the Bible, then we dishonor Him and forget that the Spirit of God created the whole world, including us (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4). All life comes from the Spirit (Ps. 104:30). All skill, all wisdom, and all ability comes from the Spirit. That includes the ability to build beautiful and useful things with earth, wood, metal, and stone.

It is a great encouragement to us to know as the worker’s hand steers the excavator or guides the saw, the Lord’s hand is directing the worker. You contractors and construction workers, we want you know that we pray for you. May God’s Spirit give you safety and skill so that this project is truly a blessing to us all and useful for the kingdom of God. And may you have joy in your labors, the joy of knowing that the Spirit of God is supporting you.

Isn’t God good? He gives the head, heart, and hands we need to serve Him! Let us pray that the results of this head-heart-hands ministry may be fulfilled in the hallways and classrooms of this projected building, such that hundreds of cities and villages on every continent of this globe may be its beneficiary. To that end, let us continue to pray and dream our great vision that every city on the earth would one day—and could it be soon—have at least one Reformed, experiential preacher who may herald forth the full and free gospel of Jesus Christ to lost and saved sinners to the glory of God alone.

PRTS Ground Breaking Ceremony from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.


A Weekend of Diversity

After completing teaching for another semester on Thursday, I entered a weekend of considerable diversity. Friday morning I led the funeral of Jeanette Berman, aged 97, a lifelong church member who died very suddenly. She remembered as a young child riding to church in the winter on a sleigh!

From there I went to Calvin Seminary where I spoke on “Puritan Preparatory Grace” for the Graduate Historical Colloquium. Rev. Paul Smalley assisted me with the Q&A session that followed. (Some of those that lingered for fellowship are shown in the attached photograph.)

Fellowship after the Colloquium at Calvin Seminary

Then there was a hospital visit to see the new baby of one of our theological students. On Saturday, I officiated the wedding of Matthew Glutting and Kimberly Westrate (Kim is both a member of our church and an employee of PRTS).

Sunday I preached on Revelation 7 and administered our church’s quarterly Lord’s Supper—always a special day. But this time it was a bit nostalgic because I last preached on this text for my father’s funeral nearly twenty years ago, and it was also my 60th birthday and 26th anniversary as a pastor in our church.

Today, my wife and I hosted a farewell dinner for the PRTS students that are leaving us in the next few weeks after the completion of this semester to minister in their home countries. They hail from Brazil, Korea, Malawi, and South Africa.

Dinner with Departing PRTS International Families

Such is life: birth, marriage, birthday, anniversary, Lord’s Supper, lecturing, death, burial, farewell—in one weekend. Solomon was right: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to…” (Eccl. 3:1–2).

Are you prepared for life’s diversity—especially for its end?

Hitting the Mark at Seminary

Today, I was walking home from the seminary for lunch when I caught our new academic dean, Dr. Michael Barrett, an avid hunter, doing a few minutes of target practice on his lunch break. He missed the bull’s eye by an inch!

Dr. Barrett has been a great blessing for us already in his first weeks on the job. Please continue to pray for him and Sandra as they adjust to Michigan and the seminary community.

First Day of Class

Today I began teaching for the 2012-2013 school year at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. I have 36 students in my Soteriology class—the study of salvation. What a joy they are to teach! They are from 14 different countries and more than 20 denominations. You can see here how they are crammed into our largest classroom. We can’t wait for our much-needed building expansion. So far, we have received $1.8 million in gifts and pledges. We have $1 million to go (the 18,000 square feet expansion will cost about $2.8 million). We need another $300,000 before we can begin building. If you, or friends you know, are vitally interested in seeing solidly Reformed preaching spread around the globe, please consider helping us close this gap now. You can donate and/or pledge by contacting Chris Hanna (616-977-0599 x138) or going here.

Conference and Family Joys

Joel Beeke, Derek Thomas, Burk Parsons, Bart Elshout, and David Murray

What a blessed and packed weekend this has been! First was the Puritan Reformed Theology Seminary conference on “The Beauty and Glory of God the Father,” which went far better than I expected. Nearly 500 people attended. Dr. Derek Thomas’s closing address alone was worth the price of the conference. Addresses can be heard on

Derek Thomas and Me

Then our son Calvin became engaged to Laura Sweetman—to our great joy! One hour after she showed us her ring, my oldest daughter, Esther, came home with a birthstone ring from her boyfriend, James Engelsma—again to our great joy!

Calvin, Laura, Lydia, Esther, James, Mary, and Me

In addition to two sermons, and a Youth Group meeting, yesterday was packed with visitors, family, and friends who attended the conference. And this morning, Esther left for Lithuania for a semester of study (yes, my wife and I both cried), while our youngest daughter, Lydia, was leaving on the bus for her first day of 11th grade. Meanwhile, I rushed back from the airport to give an opening address on “Eleven Commandments for Theological Students” for the fall semester (which will be posted at And now I need to rush down to Kalamazoo to meet with my brothers and sisters who have also come from British Columbia and Ontario to divide up the few possessions that our dear Mother left behind. I’m so glad that the treasury of prayers she left behind was far greater than her treasury of earthly things!


The Beauty and Glory of the Father

We are days away from this year’s Puritan Reformed Conference (August 23–25, at Calvin Prince Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan), and I cannot express how excited we are about this year’s theme, The Beauty and Glory of the Father.

Spurgeon once said, “Nothing will so enlarge the intellect and magnify the whole soul of man as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the whole subject of the Trinity. The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls the Father.”

Here are the topics and speakers:

—Jerry Bilkes, Father and Son in the Exodus (Hos.11:1, etc.)

—Derek Thomas, The Holiness of the Father in the Old Testament and Seeing the Father in the Face of Jesus (Jn.14:9)

—Bart Elshout, The Father’s Love for His Son (Jn.3:35)

—Burk Parsons, The Father’s Beautiful Hand of Blessed Chastisement (Heb.12:4-13)

—Ryan McGraw – The Need for a Trinitarian Piety

—Joel Beeke, The Apostle John and the Puritans on the Father’s Adopting, Transforming Love

—William VanDoodewaard, The Father’s Mercy (1Pet.1:3-5)

Breakout Sessions:

  • David Murray, Counseling and the Fatherhood of God
  • Burk Parsons, The Glory of the Father in the High-Priestly Prayer of Christ (Jn.17)
  • Paul Smalley, Richard Sibbes on the Mercy and Faithfulness of the Father
  • William VanDoodewaard, Your Father in Heaven (Mt.5-7)

If you have not signed up for the conference, please do so now. Whether it is the entire conference or just one day, you will not want to miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about God, the Father. Whether you are young or old, single or married, you will not want to miss this year’s conference. Call Chris Hanna at the seminary soon to register. He may be reached at 616.977.0599 ext.138. You may also register online, or at the door. The entire three-day event is only $90 per person; a one-day registration is just $30 per person and you can even mix and match your sessions.