God With Us

God with us.
This is the promise of Advent. That Christ has come to be with us; to walk our earth, know our pain and guide us home. And, this same Christ is coming again to finally and fully be with us.
God with us.
Could there be anything more significant or shocking? God? Coming to us? Coming to Elizabeth and Mary? Coming to Joseph and some shepherds? This is the promise of Advent.
This December we’ll explore the people God came to in the lead up to Christ’s birth. Their stories are not all that different from ours and teach us about the ways God is with us today.
December 3 – Elizabeth and Zechariah
December 10 – Mary
December 17 – Joseph
December 24 – the Shepherds
December 31 – God’s Loyal Love to us

The Adventure of Coming Home: “I am always with you” (Week 6)

As we end our series, we look into the verse that ends the story of the prodigal sons. In verse 31, the Father says “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

The Adventure of Coming Home: Receiving Your True Self (Week 5)

As we start to wrap up this series, it’s our hope that many of you have been able to take a step towards home. The journey doesn’t end here, though. It’s a lifelong journey, not an overnight one. Listen here.

The Adventure of Coming Home: Discovering Your True Self (Week 4)

This week, we move from the lies of the False Self (we must earn our identity) to discovering our True Self (we can receive our identity). “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” Luke 15:31

The Adventure of Coming Home: Unmasking Your False Self (Week 3)

What mask are you wearing? This week, we dig into the hard work of uncovering the parts of ourselves that we like to keep hidden. Often, we don’t even know those parts exist. But our loving God wants more for us than the identity for which we are willing to settle.

The Adventure of Coming Home

“God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.”
Meister Eckhart

The story of the prodigal son(s) in Luke 15 points us to what is true: we easily wander from home. And, when we turn back for home, God runs toward us to welcome every single part of who we are.

This is good news. And yet, turning back for home can be scary. What if we’re not welcomed? What if there are parts of ourselves that won’t be accepted? And what will we find out about ourselves on the way?

To be sure, the journey home is nothing short of an adventure. It is full of risk, uncertainty and…life. Join us as we explore what this parable teaches us about ourselves and the journey home.

The Journey Inward (Week 1)

Bringing Our Whole Selves (Week 2)

Unmasking Your False Self (Week 3)

Discovering Our True Self (Week 4)

Receiving Our True Self (Week 5)

“I am always with you” (Week 6)
Luke 15:31

Additional Resources
“The Gift of Being Yourself” by David Benner

Practicing Spiritual Practices

Transformation doesn’t come from effort alone. We can’t just hope or wish or even try really hard. Instead, we have to train ourselves into a new way of being. We have to practice.

To that end, Join us any Wednesday morning from 8-8:45am at the Garfield Park Nature Center (see map below, entrance is on Jefferson) To begin, we head into different parts of the Nature Center to practice prayer and contemplation on our own. We then gather together after a set amount of time to share any reflections. Any one is welcome any week.

Can’t make it? Below is a growing list of resources we’re using . You can engage with these at anytime, anywhere it works for you. 

  • Download and use the Centering Prayer app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/centering-prayer/id844280857?mt=8). We use this most Wednesday mornings.
  • Pick up a copy of Seeking God’s Face

Want more info? Email chris@thebranchonline.org


Fall at the Branch

The weather has turned cooler. The more relaxed pace of summer seems to be over. Here at The Branch, things are no different. Take a look at some of the things happening this Fall. Join us for one or join us for all. We’d love to have you!

Fall Kick-off Party
When: Saturday, Sept. 16 @ 3pm–?
Where: Oeverman and DeBlaay yard – 2020 and 2030 Madison Ave. SE
What to bring: Sign up here for food, lawn chair, any yard games you love, and blankets/pillows for the outdoor movie
Who: Everyone from the youngest member of your family to the oldest is invited.
Why: For fun! And to connect with each other as the fall season begins

BranchStudents Kick-off
When: Sunday, Sept. 17 @ 5:30
Where: Workman’s home
What to bring: any side dish to share
Who: 5th graders and older, along with their parents are invited to this first meeting of BranchStudents. (Please make other arrangements for younger siblings.)
Why: To learn more about what BranchStudents is all about

Fall Partner Gathering
When: Sunday, Sept. 24 @ 3pm
Where: Seymour Church in Alger Heights
What to bring: nothing
Who: All partners (members) and those who call the Branch home, even if not officially affiliated
Why: To discuss and reflect on the vision God has laid before us; to discern what that means for us corporately and individually
Childcare is provided. Please RSVP here.

Vision Series: Reconciled

Reconciliation finds its roots in the Latin meaning to bring back together what has been separated; to make good again. The Scriptures tell us that reconciliation is exactly what God is up to in the world, and we are called to join in that work.

The Branch is a church committed to reconciliation that is both personal, relational and moves us towards greater justice in the world.  Join us each week as we not only consider where we are headed as a church, but what God may be inviting each of us to do in the months ahead.

9/10 – reconciled: me

9/17 – reconciled: you

9/24 – reconciled: us

Racial Reconciliation Training

This spring, we are offering free training aimed at helping address systemic and individual racism and bias. Our goal is “to see and learn about racism in a new and redemptive way, to gain insights into systemic racism through the eyes of faith and Scripture, to see more of the connections between history and contemporary race relations, and to identify organizing opportunities to eliminate racism, both causes and effects, within the body of believers and throughout the world.” Please join us as we pursue reconciliation in this part of the world we call home.

April 22 – Noon to 6pm

April 26 and May 3, 6-8pm*

*While we’d love to have you at all three pieces of the training, you can attend only Saturday if your schedule requires.

To register, simply check our our Facebook event and click “Tickets Available.” We look forward to your presence in our community and welcoming you into the family of the Branch!

Love Over Fear (a story)

Loving the other is rarely easy, and more than often requires more of us than we think we can give. Thanks to Jeff and Sarah for being willing to share their story of how God has been at work in and through them as they chose love over fear.


Verkaik from Chris DeBlaay on Vimeo.

Church on the Road

Join us this Sunday (2/26) at 10am as we head to RiverTree to join them in worship and have lunch together. RiverTree is located at 5625 Burlingame Ave.

KIDS: Nursery (0-2) begin the morning in nursery.  Kids 3 years old and up start in worship and then are dismissed 15-20 minutes in.  Parents will find the RiverKids sign in table to their left in the gym.

TEENS: all middle and high schoolers are encouraged to participate in youth group.  These students are released at the same time as the younger kids.

LUNCH: bring a dish to pass!  place settings and drinks will be provided

Unity, Liberty, Charity: Week 2

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, LIBERTY. In all things, charity.
This week we look at how to allow freedom of thought and freedom of will in things that are non-essential.

Please utilize the handout below to fully engage with this message.

Liberty Handout Web


Unity, Liberty, Charity: Week 1

We begin this series by looking at Christ’s unmistakable call to unity.  We also work to reclaim the often forgotten truth that there is much more that binds us together than separates us, even in this debate.

We also strongly encourage you to engage with these questions and readings this week to further reflect on this issue and prepare you for the next week:



New Year’s Breakfast

Welcome the New Year with us as we share breakfast before worship. Come anytime after 8:30am.

Sure, it’s a bit early, but we’re keeping things low-key and simple.

Click here to sign up for something to bring.


Merry Christmas!

Over the last month we’ve been humbled and grateful as the Branch has repeatedly been an extension of Christ to the world. Here’s a snapshot of ways in which God has worked through us to spread the Good News:

In the last month, our kids gave offerings totaling $175 to purchase 5 pairs of shoes, 3 mosquito nets and 1 set of new bedsheets & blanket for kids with Kenya Matters (we know that many of you also purchased items from the gift catalog)!

We came together to ensure a Congolese refugee family of six had all the winter gear they needed.

We were approached by a school social worker about a GR mother of four who was in need of basics (bedding, underwear, socks). We used resources from our Helping Hands Fund (a fund completely supported by your gifts) to provide the needed items as well as a gift card that would give her the ability to purchase gifts for her kids.

And, this week we’ll write year-end gifts to our two ministry partners: Frontline Recovery and Kenya Matters.

We use the pronoun “we” throughout this email because each expression of love was possible because of God’s work through us.  This wasn’t about individual efforts or solo heroes, but a community of people doing their best to listen to and respond to what God is doing around them.

Thank you for being a part of the Branch and making a difference in the world around you.

Merry Christmas!

Autumn at the Branch

It’s hard to believe that Autumn is near, isn’t it? Kids are going to be starting school, the air around us will be cool and we’ll either embrace or avoid pumpkin flavored everything. We have big plans at the Branch for this Autumn and we hope you’ll be able to join us for a lot of it, all if you can. Our focus, as always, is getting more connected to our Branch family, our extended communities and to God.

So, what’s happening?


BranchStudents Kick-off!

Joins us September 18 for the BranchStudents kick-off. BranchStudents is for those in 5th grade and up, and this kickoff week we want parents to come too! (sorry, no siblings). Updates and details are on the BranchStudents Facebook page. You can RSVP there.

Rice & Beans

The week of September 19-23 we will be inviting everyone to eat rice & beans for dinner (or use only items in your pantry, or pick another way to lower your eating costs for the week — be creative!).  The point is to spend less on food, make a sacrifice by changing your normal routine and preferences, and then give whatever you saved on food as a gift to Frontline Recovery. Frontline Recovery is a southeast Grand Rapids nonprofit devoted to working with those who struggle with substance addiction.  They are a light and we are excited to partner with them this fall.

All Church Retreat

September 24 & 25 is the All Church Retreat, starting at 1:00 pm on Saturday. It will be held at the DeBlaay-Oeverman homes (2020 and 2030 Madison). This event is completely free of charge!

Here’s a rough timeline of events (emphasis on ‘rough’…it’s a flexible time together and we may move things around as needed). Please sign up today by emailing “I’m/we’re in!” to admin@thebranchonline.org.


  • 1-2pm Kick-Off and Connect
  • 2-5pm Games and Serve (we’ll have some planned activities, including a way to serve others half way around the world)
  • 5-6pm Connect
  • 6-7:30pm Dinner
  • 7:30-?pm Games and Smores
  • You are welcome (dare we say encouraged!) to set up your own tent and join us for a camp out Saturday night or you can head home, sleep in your own bed and join us again in the morning. 🙂


  • 7:45-8:00am  Time of prayer in park
  • 8-9am Breakfast and Clean Up
  • 9:15am – Worship at the Branch building

Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast will be a planned potluck – everyone bringing something specific to contribute.  We’ll have sign ups for food the week before once we have numbers.

Get Connected Lunches

September 25th (and the last Sunday of every month going forward): If you’re new to the Branch or newish and looking to get more connected, we’d love to have you join us for lunch (our treat). We’ll head to a local restaurant and take some time to listen to your story and share the story of the Branch. Kids are welcome.

Beer & Hymns

The fourth Tuesday of every month we sing hymns and drink beer (or your chosen beverage) at the Last Chance Tavern & Grill on Burton in Grand Rapids. If you have yet to make it to one of these events, we hope that you’ll come soon and add your voice to the chorus (and the verses, too). Follow us on Facebook!


Small Groups

Starting the week of October 9th and going for 6 weeks, we will be having another round of small groups to follow along with our sermon series. More details and sign-up sheets to come!

Marriage Retreat

The weekend of October 28 & 29 Drew & Hanna Brennan will be leading a Marriage Retreat for Branch couples. The weekend will start on Friday (6-8:30pm) with dinner and continue on Saturday (9-2pm).  Sign ups will begin the week of September 11. We’d love to have you and your spouse (or spouse-to-be) attend this empowering weekend.

Thanks for reading! We hope we made it onto your calendars for Autumn 2016!

Lent Reflection Guide

A team of people at the Branch have created a guide for Lent.  Each week has a personal reflection, questions to help process the passage, suggested Scripture for the week and a prayer.

You can download the whole guide here: 2016LentGuide

Or, if you’d prefer to read it right here, we’ll post each week’s reflection and resources below:

Reflection 6: the week of 3/21

Read Luke 15:1-10

We live in a culture that likes to celebrate. We get together with family and friends during holidays, and if you’re at all like my family, sometimes several times. We plan elaborate birthday parties for our kids, of which I am definitely one. We celebrate important people and events through marches or parades. We enjoy the celebration.

The thing I’ve been celebrating most in my house is potty-training success. We rejoice when our two-year-old uses the bathroom. We praise her and clap and cheer and give her all the affirming words we can. Sometimes we dance or even offer a special treat. We celebrate.

In Luke 15:4-6, the shepherd searches for his lost sheep and when he finds it he goes back home and celebrates with his friends and neighbors. He rejoices over his lost sheep. In Luke 15:8-10, the woman who loses her coin delights with her community over finding it once again.

At first glance the message behind the parables seem obvious. We know we are the “lost sheep” or “lost coin” and that we are lucky enough to have a God that will search for us when we wander off course. And while I think this is an important message, I think the other piece to consider is whether we celebrate when we, or someone we know, has found their way home.

In order to celebrate, we need to know who was lost in the first place, and that takes vulnerability. Are we vulnerable enough to step forward to say, “I’m lost”? Some people are lost in their relationships, whether it be with a sibling, parent, or a spouse. Some are wondering in faith, asking questions and feeling ignored. Some of us are wandering back from being lost not too long ago. But do we let people into these places with us? If we don’t, then we are missing out on the something we do best, celebrating.

And even though we are excellent at celebrating–who doesn’t love balloon animals, confetti, and a good bounce house?–our celebration cannot compare to the rejoicing that takes place in heaven when a lost child of God finds their way home (see Luke 15:7).

It’s clear that we need to celebrate with one another, and we need to let each other have access to our lives in order to do that. But just as we celebrate, our Father is celebrating even more, delighted and joyful that the “lost sheep” is found.

Questions for reflections:

  1. Where do you feel lost today? Find some time and space to dwell with God in those lost spaces. Listen.
  2. When have you felt like the 1? When have you felt like the 99?
  3. Celebrating our return or another person being found requires that we are close enough to be vulnerable. Where do you see this kind of vulnerability in your life? If you don’t, what is keeping you from vulnerability?
  4. Is there an area in your life that requires repentance? Take a moment to write down what specifically you need to turn from.
Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 19:28-40

Prayer: God of patient love,

you await the return of the wayward and wandering

and eagerly embrace them in pardon.

Through baptism you have clothed us with the glory of Christ

and restored our inheritance:

give us generous hearts

to welcome all who seek a place

at the table of your unconditional love.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Holy Week – March 21

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Psalm 22

Hebrews 10:16-25

Luke 22:14-23:56


In this holy time,

as we remember the sacrifice of the cross,

we offer the prayers of our hearts,

that through them we may be transformed

to be servants of justice, love and peace.


Make us steadfast witnesses of our Savior’s reign,

that we may live in the pattern of Christ,

who was faithful in all things,

even death,

and whose darkest hour gives light and hope. Amen.

2016 Strategic Plan (part 2)

We’re taking time each week to write in more detail about our 2016 Strategic Plan (i.e. where we are going to focus our energy and resources in the next year).  If you didn’t catch the first post in this series, we encourage you to do so here.

Action 2: Offering lavish hospitality and care

In the last six months, we’ve taken good steps to be more hospitable, but we believe there’s more to do. Why is hospitality so important to us?  There are two reasons.  One has to do with our theology.  The other has to do with the gift of family.

First, some theology.  Hospitality matters to us because it matters to God.  We believe that it is a central part of God’s character.  The Scriptures reveal to us in Jesus a God that welcomes sinners, pursues those who are lost, strikes up a conversation with the untouchable and invites the denier and deserter to his table.  God is lavishly hospitable.  We are to be as well.

Second, let’s consider family.  We know that the first step in belonging to a community is experiencing hospitality.  Before deep relationships can form, we must know that we are welcome — that there’s room for us — that there’s a desire among those who already belong to include us.

In this next year we will continue to grow in our ability to extend lavish hospitality and care by:

  • Creating a more welcoming environment on Sunday morning
    • We want to build on the growth we’ve experienced in the last six months by making Sunday morning even more friendly to those who are new.  This will mean things like better signage, reworking our information table and training our hospitality volunteers.  But in the end, this action unquestionably hinges on the people of the Branch extending hospitality in ways big and small: simply saying ‘hi’ to someone they don’t recognize, extending an invitation to a Branch event, having someone new over for lunch, etc.
  • Developing clear steps anyone can take to become more connected.
    • We want to make sure we have clear ways for anyone who is new-ish to the Branch to build relationships and start to sense the gift of community that the Branch has to offer.  This will mean — among other things — regularly scheduled lunches for those new to the Branch and developing a process for following up with those who are visiting.
  • Creating a process that helps us respond wisely to the needs of those at the Branch and in the community.
    • Identifying clear steps to take when those from inside and outside of the Branch community — especially when those needs have a financial element to them — approach us for help.  The Stewards will take the lead in creating this.

If you are at the Branch today it is almost certainly because you experienced hospitality and care along the way.  May we all extend that gift to those that join us in the next year.

2016 Strategic Plan (part 1)

Over the last six months we’ve been doing our best to pay attention to God’s leading.  Both corporately and individually we have been listening for God’s voice and working to notice where God is at work.  The result of that discernment is our 2016 Strategic Plan.  While this plan is not a once and for all roadmap, it will serve as a framework for where we will focus our energy and efforts in the next year.

This post, and the three to follow, will give details about the four actions we believe God is asking us to take in 2016.  If you’d prefer to listen to this info, click here.

Action 1: Joining in God’s redemptive work

From the beginning, the Branch has held this hope: that we would be a people actively participating in what God is doing.  So while this is not a new initiative, we do believe that God is asking us to take these specific, concrete steps this year:

  • Encouraging the continued formation of Missional Communities, who share rhythms of life and unite around a common purpose. As their name suggests, Missional Communities (MCs) are groups of 20-40 people who share life regularly in order to pursue a specific mission together.  MCs are something like an extended family — a place to both belong and find purpose.  God is stirring in the hearts of a number of people at the Branch about forming new Missional Communities (that would likely look quite differently than the MCs that have existed up until this point).  We will update everyone as this continues to unfold.  Until then, you are always welcome to join the Madison MC on Thursday evenings.
  • Pursuing opportunities to address racial reconciliation by partnering with other churches that are different than us and/or are further down the road on this journey.  We are located in a part of the city where the racial and ethnic divides are clear.  But so is the call to embody God’s reconciling and uniting love.  In this intersection, a number of people have been hearing God call them to act — to take steps that would create in them the capacity to love more fully and act more justly.  As we’ve been hearing this call, we’ve been invited to join others from the community at Hope Reformed Church (Burton and Kzoo Ave.) throughout 2016.  Hope is beginning to lay the groundwork for starting a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church service in 2017.  This groundwork will be laid by (1) sharing regular meals with those in the community who want to further racial reconciliation and (2) growing in character and capacity through training.  Anyone at the Branch with a desire to participate in this is more than invited to do so.  More information can be found here.
  • Reinvesting locally by offering CREATE (a week long art camp) in the summer of 2016.  Creativity has been a core value since our inception.  We believe that the more we understand and practice our creativity (of all kinds), the more we understand our creative God and become the people we are meant to be.  For five years (2008-2012) we offered a week long art camp for children in the community.  It was good and meaningful work. But in 2013 we decided that it was time to hit the pause button.  Our people needed to rest.  Vision needed to be rekindled.  And so we also took 2014 and 2015 off.  Then, in the midst of that abiding, a new word was spoken to a group of people at the Branch.  They felt a calling to lead the charge to offer CREATE again.  And so, we’re already working on the details for offering the camp this summer.  If you would like to be involved, even if you’re not sure how, or you’d just like to learn more, email admin@thebranchonline.org
  • Partnering with the Alger Heights Collaborative to empower and serve neighbors in SE Grand Rapids.  Three years ago, a collaborative began in Alger Heights/Garfield Park with the purpose of connecting the resources and skills of the people of these neighborhoods to its needs.  This collaborative is made up of one business association, five churches and two neighborhood associations.  The Branch has been a part of this collaborative from the beginning, but we want to take steps this year to become more integrated in its work.  A representative from the Branch has joined the leadership team and has will be keeping us informed of how we can do that in the coming year.  You can get an overview of the Collaborative here.
  • Discerning what relationship(s) God wants us to develop in order to be a part of God’s global work.  While a good portion of the work we feel called to is in the Grand Rapids metro area, we also believe that we’re being asked to consider how we can be a part of the renewal that is happening around the globe.  We’ll be forming a team of people to help us determine what partnerships are best for us to form in 2016.

A common thread in all of these steps is that the people of the Branch are leading us.  These actions were not thought up in a board room.  These are not one person’s dreams.  Instead, it is the consummation of months of a community talking, dreaming, listening.  We give thanks for this.  

Next week, we’ll look at the action of offering lavish hospitality and care.  Click here to read.