Right Responses

Because I couldn’t say it any better, I share this letter from Pastor Jeff Evans. Pastor Evans is the director of the Minnesota Church Ambassador Network within the Minnesota Family Research Council.

Mike Altena

 

Dear Mike,

The Chauvin trial has come to a close.  Your congregants have a wide range of opinions and emotions. Some are relieved, some celebratory that justice has been served, and others concerned that justice may not have been served.  No doubt, you as a pastor have been asked what you think about all that has transpired. You may be preaching on this very topic this Sunday.  While we don’t pretend to know all the right responses to such a multifaceted issue, there are a few things we think are essential for everyone to consider.

First, compassion for the family of George Floyd. No verdict will bring him back to his family and friends. He was a human being made in the image of God.

Second, human justice has been rendered through our court system, and needs to be respected. “…[T]here is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).  Such justice, though human (and therefore always imperfect and incomplete), is part of God’s mercy toward society. We should give thanks to God for the trial administered by Judge Cahill, the service of the jurors, and the long hours put in both by the prosecution and defense. What’s more, compassion and justice belong together, so let us thank pastors and lay leaders who prayed and worked hard for peace in our streets and the constitutional right of free and non-violent expression.

Third, the Day is coming when divine justice and mercy will be fully applied. Though our human courts do contribute to the peace and prosperity of our state, as God has ordained, they cannot right every wrong    nor wipe away every tear. This will only happen when the Son rises from the right hand of the Father in   final judgment.

That time will come, but for now, we wait. The whole series of events of the past 331 days has taught us that we cannot put all our trust and hope in human justice, or merely human solutions. We must all grab hold of God’s precious Gospel, the divine Solution. We can start here: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Jesus received the perfect sentence of justice (on our behalf) when He died on the Cross.  We believe the Father’s perfect forgiveness and mercy is extended to all who trust in His Son. This justice and mercy has been accomplished, and we must proclaim it to everyone.

As we move forward in the weeks and months ahead, let us reason with one another with all humility. Let’s listen respectfully, with the expectation and hope we will be listened to as well: “… let every person be   quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21). Let us trust in our Savior all the more and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This is the Gospel path to perfect justice, perfect compassion, and  perfect hope.

We covet your prayers as we navigate through these times by proclaiming the gospel, strengthening families, and advancing foundational truth in churches, the media, government, and the public square throughout the state of Minnesota.

Blessings in Christ, Pastor Jeff

 


Who Can We Trust?

This past week has been a very difficult week for me in that I discovered that I might not be able to trust my favorite news source any longer. That’s right, I often watch the Cable News Network because they claim to be  “the most trusted name in news.” Well, not according to a news article I read by Ryan Saavedra, an undercover agent from Project Veritas who interviewed CNN’s Technical Director, Charlie Chester about a variety of issues happening in America. And not knowing the true identity of who he was being interviewed by, Charlie Chester spilled the beans on many of their deceptive news reporting tactics.

For example, on Black Lives Matter and hate crimes, Chester said:

“I was trying to do some research on the Asian hate, like the people [who] are getting attacked and whatnot. A bunch of black men have been attacking Asians. I’m like ‘What are you doing? Like, we [CNN] are trying to help BLM.’”

“The optics of that are not good. These [are] little things that are enough to set back movements, because the far [right] will start to latch on and create stories like ‘criminalizing an entire people,’ you know, just easier headlines that way, I guess.”

On having a predetermined agenda to cover climate change and to use “fear” to sell it, Chester said:

“So, our next thing is going to be climate change awareness.”

“I think there’s a COVID fatigue. So, like whenever a new story comes up, they’re [CNN’s] going to latch onto it. They’ve already announced in our office that once the public is — will be open to it — we’re going to start focusing mainly on climate.”

“I have a feeling that it’s going to be like, constantly showing videos of decline in ice, and weather warming up, and like the effects it’s having on the economy–”

“Climate change is the next “pandemic-like story that we’ll beat to death, but that one’s got longevity. You know what I mean? Like there’s a definitive ending to the pandemic. It’ll taper off to a point that it’s not a problem anymore. Climate change can take years, so they’ll [CNN will] probably be able to milk that quite a bit.”

“Be prepared, it’s coming. Climate change is going to be the next COVID thing for CNN.”

When asked if CNN was going to use “fear” to push their agenda, Chester said, “Yeah. Fear sells.”

And in another Project Veritas released this week, Chester said:

“Any reporter on CNN — what they’re actually doing is they’re telling the person what to say… It’s always like leading them in a direction before they even open their mouths. The only people that we [CNN] will let on the air, for the most part, are people that have a proven track record of taking the bait.”

“I think there’s an art to manipulation…Inflection, saying things twice — there’s little subtleties to how to manipulate people…I mean, it’s enough to change the world, you know?”

Well, if you’re like me, I’m sure you’re heartbroken and outraged to discover that “the most trusted name in news” is intentionally trying to manipulate you and me. Very bad! Very bad!

And yet in our staff meeting this past Tuesday, we learned that all of us are guilty of manipulating each other in action and in the way we talk to each other.  God created humanity with four basic temperaments, and when operating in their weaknesses, Sanguines manipulate with charm and flattery, Cholerics manipulate with tone and volume, Melacholics manipulate with moods and silence, and Phlegmatics manipulate with procrastination and stubbornness (Trust me, you’ll have to take the course in order to understand).

May it not be so with you and me that we would intentionally manipulate one another with our words or actions, but rather may you and I change the world by always speaking the truth in love and saying only that what is helpful for building each other up according to their needs.

No more CNN, now only following Jesus, the most trusted name above all names,

Mike Altena

 


How Unfair!

I’m guessing some of you may have heard about the decision of the city council in Evanston, Illinois to pay reparations to black residents who have suffered housing discrimination. Because the black Americans who lived in that city from 1919-1969 were disadvantaged by racist housing decisions, the city council voted 8-1 to distribute $25,000 each to 16 eligible black households to use for home repairs or as a down payment on property. In order to be eligible to receive reparations, the family must have been living in Evanston from 1919 to 1969 and must have been a victim of discrimination in housing because of policies or practices in the city in that time. The funds to pay for the restitutions will come mostly from a new tax on legalized marijuana.

Although I don’t doubt that the black residents were treated unfairly, after reading the story, I wonder if in 50 years, will the marijuana smokers be eligible for reparations for being treated unfairly by the city council for having to pay for the reparations to those who were treated unfairly. Like how is it fair to treat someone unfairly to right a wrong that was committed by other people who acted unfairly? And why only 16 households? Is it fair that the rest of those who were discriminated against have to wait until more pot is smoked?

Well, of course this isn’t the only time someone was treated unfairly to provide reparations for those who had acted unfairly. There’s another such story told in Isaiah 53. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message and it goes like this: 1Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

2-6 The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him [How is that fair?].

7-9 He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off—and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.

10 Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

11-12 Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins. Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—the best of everything, the highest honors—Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep [How unfair!].

May it not be so with you and me that we would ever complain about being treated too unfairly. But   rather, may we meditate on how Father thought it was fair for his Son to pay the reparations for the injustices we commit.

Just as if I’d not sinned,

Mike Altena

 


Mr. Potato Head

America received more shocking and dark news this past week as Hasbro, the maker of Mr. Potato Head, has announced that the long time toy has been made over. After seven decades, Mr. Potato has lost his manhood. And not only has he lost his manhood, he lost his womanhood too. Mr. Potato Head has now become gender neutral and will be simply known as “Potato Head.” In fact, a spokesman for Hasbro said, “The Potato Head Family kits will come with two “non-gendered ‘adult’ potatoes, one ‘baby’ potato, and 42 accessories.” “That will let the kids decided the parents’ gender, rather than being told they are ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’”

The reality of that breaking news story, my friends, is deeply disturbing and saddening. Those whose hearts are darkened and have wandered far from the life of God have lost all sensitivity and sensibility. America, a nation founded by a majority of Christians who sought to live out the gospel, has been hijacked by a group of demonized individuals who have been deceived by the Devil.

And like Jeremiah, in the season of Lent I lament our loss of Godly values and the deceit being foisted on our children. I invite you to join me in lament reading from Lamentations 3.

1I am a man who has suffered greatly. The Lord has used the Babylonians to punish my people…

17I have lost all hope of ever having any peace. I’ve forgotten what good times are like. 18So I say, “My glory has faded away. My hope in the Lord is gone.” 19I remember how I suffered and wandered. I remember how bitter my life was. 20I remember it very well. My spirit is very sad deep down inside me.

21But here is something else I remember. And it gives me hope. 22The Lord loves us very much. So we haven’t been completely destroyed. His loving concern never fails. 23His great love is new every morning. Lord, how faithful you are! 24I say to myself, “The Lord is everything I will ever need. So I will put my hope in him.” 25The Lord is good to those who put their hope in him. He is good to those who look to him. 26It is good when people wait quietly for the Lord to save them.

27It is good for a man to carry a heavy load of suffering while he is young. 28Let him sit alone and not say anything. The Lord has placed that load on him. 29Let him bury his face in the dust. There might still be hope for him. 30Let him turn his cheek toward those who would slap him. Let him be filled with shame. 31The Lord doesn’t turn his back on people forever. 32He might bring suffering. But he will also show loving concern. How great his faithful love is! 33He doesn’t want to bring pain or suffering to anyone….

37Suppose people order something to happen. It won’t happen unless the Lord has planned it. 38Troubles and good things alike come to people because the Most High God has commanded them to come. 39A person who is still alive shouldn’t blame God when God punishes them for their sins.

40Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living. Let’s return to the Lord. 41Let’s lift up our hands to God in heaven. Let’s pray to him with all our hearts. 42Let’s say, “We have sinned. We’ve refused to obey you. And you haven’t forgiven us….

55Lord, I called out to you. I called out from the bottom of the pit. 56I prayed, “Please don’t close your ears to my cry for help.” And you heard my appeal. 57You came near when I called out to you. You said, “Do not be afraid.”

Father, I praise you for making a potato gender neutral. And I praise you for your original “Equality Act.” I praise you that you created mankind in your own image, in the image of God you created us, male and female you created us. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful. I know that full well!

So, do not be afraid,

Mike Altena

 


Faithful To The End

This past Tuesday night, one of our elders began the Elder’s Meeting by reading from Daniel 11. Daniel chapter 11 is an account of the vision that Daniel received 536 B.C. which was in the latter part of his life. According to Daniel 10:4-6, Daniel was standing on the bank of the Tigris River when he looked up and standing before him was “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” The image was so overwhelming that Daniel passed out and fell into a deep sleep. (Many scholars believe the man standing in front of Daniel was Jesus).

As the story unfolds the man standing before Daniel eventually touched him and restored his strength and then informed him that he would reveal future events which were written in the Book of Truth. And then beginning in chapter 11:2 all the way through chapter 12:4, the messenger tells Daniel story after story of the rise and fall of many empires and nations and kings. The whole chapter is a prophecy of king after king who rise to power, only to be overtaken by another king. And the neat thing is, the notes along the bottom of my study Bible give the information of when each of those events took place in history. Every one of the prophecies that were revealed to Daniel in his vision in chapter 11 eventually came to pass.

When our elder concluded his reading of a portion of Daniel 11, he reminded us of the sovereignty of God to rule the world. He reminded us we need not fret about which president sits on the throne, simply because God knows about the rise and fall of all these earthly kingdoms.

As the story of Daniel’s vision concludes in chapter 12, we discover that not all the future events were clear for Daniel, however the messenger (I also believe it was Jesus) assured Daniel that he would be blessed if he would continue to walk in faith. And at the end of chapter 12, Jesus told Daniel, “As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will receive your allotted inheritance.” What a great word of encouragement!

Well, a couple of days later, I was visiting with the elder about his devotion, and after discussing that America is turning its back on God by saying what is evil is not evil and what is good is not good, we agreed that it appears the “empire of the great America” is going down. We then talked about the role of the church in the midst of a crumbling nation, and then he gave this image. America is like the Titanic, we’ve struck our iceberg, it’s going down. And if in his sovereignty God has determined that America is about to reap what it’s been sowing, there is nothing we can do to stop America from self imploding. Our job is simply to help people discover where they can find a life boat. And of course our life boat is Jesus.

And the same was true for Daniel. In Daniel 11:33-35 we read the words of the messenger, “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34 When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. 35 Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.”

And so it will be for you and me in these last days, those who are wise will help many discover the Truth. And, we may also experience much persecution. Difficult times remind us of our weakness and our inability to cope. We want answers, leadership and clear direction. However, even though it may feel like the ship is sinking, this is an exciting time, in that, many people will be searching for truth. This is a time for our faith to be refined and strengthened as we share the gospel message of the Kingdom of God that has no end.

May it not be so, that you and I would fret during this time. God holds the future and us in his hand. Let’s just continue to be faithful in being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And in the end, we will receive our inheritance.

Grace to you, and peace,

Mike Altena

 


Spiritual Famine

The staff is currently working through Erwin McManus’s book, The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life. This past week we looked at chapter six in which Mc Manus draws wisdom from a very interesting story found in II Kings 7. The background for the story is that God’s people in Samaria were in a severe famine; so severe that some families had begun eating each other’s children. As the story unfolds, the King of Israel threatened to kill Elisha because he wasn’t doing anything to end the famine.

We pick up the story in II Kings 7:1. Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay   here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping    it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

As the story plays out, Elisha’s prophesy was fulfilled and the famine dissipated, and the man who doubted God ended up being trampled to death. (I would encourage you to read the rest of the story).

This story was convicting for me for several reasons.  First, when Elisha prophesied God’s deliverance, the king’s official said it couldn’t happen. The officer had lost hope and faith, but God’s words came true anyway. Sometimes we become so preoccupied with our problems when we should be looking for opportunities. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I must develop an attitude of expectancy. To say that God cannot rescue someone or that a situation is impossible demonstrates a lack of faith.

Secondly, as is often the case, notice that God uses the most unlikely people to carry out his plan.

Thirdly, this story is a great reminder that God always has the bigger picture in mind, and that trials like these build faith as we see God always goes ahead of us to do the impossible.

And then finally, God has so richly poured out his grace into our lives. God has blessed us with the gift of financial and material prosperity and the gift of salvation through faith in Christ and therefore, like the lepers, it would not be right for us to keep all these gifts of grace to ourselves.

Friends, we have a spiritual famine going on in our land, however, may it not be said of us that we would begin to lose hope and faith. We mustn’t become so pre-occupied with our problems, but rather we must fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who’s writing our story. And let’s certainly not hoard God’s gift of grace for ourselves.  Live your life as if someone were counting on you for some good news!

Basking in the Father’s love,

Mike Altena

 


We Reap What We Sow

Without making light of what happened in Washington DC this past Wednesday, one might wonder if the dark shadow of 2020 still lingers over us. It only took six days into the New Year before we heard that familiar word, “unprecedented,” again.

And in response to the unprecedented invasion of the capital building we are flooded with questions like, how could this have ever happened in America? Why did so many protestors show up at Trump’s rally? Was there voter fraud, or wasn’t there? Who is to blame for stirring up the peaceful protestors? Who is at fault for turning the protestors into rioters and insurrectionists? Was this a coup? Why wasn’t there a greater police presence? If the majority of the rioting crowd had been black or brown people, would there have been many more arrests and deaths. Was this clear evidence of white supremacy? Should President Trump be impeached? We want to know who is at fault. Is it President Trump’s fault? Is Congress to blame? Maybe the deceit of the media is responsible. Or could it be Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg is to blame?

The list of “cause and effect” questions to be answered is long. And in the midst of our chaos, we naturally respond to our fear and anxiety by blaming others. And yet I wonder, are we avoiding other, more important, questions?

As I watched the news surrounding all that was going on Wednesday, I imagined the various media outlets trying to answer questions that might get to the root of our nation’s problems. Like, imagine Don asking Chris, where do we see the devil at work today? And then I imagine Chris quoting Ephesians 6:10-12. 10 Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And then I imagine them discussing the tactics of how the devil has been the tempter, the deceiver, and the accuser.

Or I imagine Tucker asking Sean, what happens when people, even though they know that God exists, neither glorify him or give thanks to him? And what happens when a country exchanges the truth for a lie? And then I imagine Sean pulling out his Bible and reading from Romans 1. 18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images… 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts… 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen…  28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

And then imagine Joy asking Whoopi, so is there any hope for America? And Whoopi responds, God said, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

We reap what we sow. When trying to decide who is to blame in our darkest hour, may we all have the humility to say, I am the number one obstacle to what God wants to do in my life, in my church, in my community and in my country. God grant me the gift of repentance.

Grace to you and peace, Mike Altena

 


Black Monday

I realize this might not be of great interest to you, but tomorrow (January 4) is known as “Black Monday.” Tomorrow is recognized as Black Monday because several National Football League coaches are expected to be fired from their jobs. Each year somewhere between five and twelve coaches are sent packing on Black Monday and it appears from the expert analysts that five coaches could find the pink slip in their mailboxes tomorrow. (So shouldn’t it be Pink Monday?)

Now I realize the firing of these coaches isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of our lives. However, even though NFL coaches earn an average of 6-7 million dollars per year, I still find myself feeling disappointed for some of them. I mean, they’re only human.

Of course, there are going to be occasions when a coach makes a bad decision that might cost them a game. And should a team owner expect a coach to perfectly train and prepare each player? Is it the coach’s fault when a player drops the ball in the end zone? And ponder this, is it really “Christian” to fire a coach when he never really knew how many players would miss games because of COVID-19? And should a coach be fired because he can’t seem to motivate his team?

As I was reflecting on Black Monday, I tried to imagine, what if God was like an NFL owner. Would God terminate me for the way I treat Vicki? Would he expect me to place higher value on her? Or would God have fired me for the way I discipled my children when they were younger. And what feedback would God give me for how I interact with my children now?

And when it comes to being a neighbor or citizen in the community, I wonder if God would demerit my leadership and effort in working together in harmony. And regarding my management of God’s checkbook, what would he think about my investments?

And then last but not least, I wonder, how would God assess my leadership role in his church? Would God be disappointed by my lack of seeking his counsel? Would God begin searching for my replacement because of my lack of dependence on his Holy Spirit? Would he let me go because I erred on the side of too much grace or too much truth? Or would I find the pink slip under my door for my poor decisions in both word and deed?

As I reflected on how God dealt with his chosen leaders in the Bible, I acknowledge my hope and peace rests in his grace. I can only take comfort in his patience and grace filled way knowing there is no Black Monday for those he loves. Yes, I will experience his loving discipline from time to time in order that I might more faithfully lead like his Son. But like Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, Peter, and Paul, I am grateful his mercies are new every day.

I stand in agreement with Jeremiah’s journal entry in Lamentations 3 (MSG), “God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.

May it be so with you and me that we find great delight having a clean slate for 2021 as we work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to apprentice future generations who passionately proclaim and demonstrate the good news of the kingdom of God.

Happy New Year! Mike Altena

 


How Would You Tell The Story?

I shared this story with you last year, and it certainly seems fitting for this year:

In 1994, the Russian Department of Education asked two Americans to go to Russia and teach morals and ethics based on biblical principles. They went to public schools, prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments, and a large orphanage where 100 children had been left to be cared for. The Americans related the following story…

Since it was nearing the holiday season, we wanted the orphans to hear the Christmas story for the first time. Throughout the story, the children and the staff listened in amazement. After telling the story, we gave the children pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger.
Each child was given a small paper square cut from yellow napkins we had brought along. Following instructions, the children tore the paper into strips to lay in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel cut from a discarded nightgown, were used for the baby’s blanket. A baby was cut from the tan felt we had brought from the United States. 
The orphans were busy assembling their mangers as I walked among them. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat waiting after he had finished his project. He looked about six years old. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the boy why there were two babies in the manger. I thought perhaps he had misunderstood the story. The child began to repeat the story very seriously. For one who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related it accurately, until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. 
Then Misha said, “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mama and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him, but I told him I couldn’t be because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.
I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him for always.”
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him, FOR ALWAYS.

I love this story in that it invites me to treasure and ponder the impact that Jesus’ humble birth has had on me. Like Misha, if I were to repeat the story of Jesus’ incarnation, how would I retell the story in order to help you understand how Jesus has brought hope and truth to the chaos of 2020? It likely would include how the Everlasting Father calmed my anxious heart during the lockdown. It likely would have included my telling about the many conversations I had with the Wonderful Counselor that started with me asking, “Now what?” And it certainly would include how I have peace, regardless of who is president, because I know that, ultimately the “one world government” is on the shoulders of Immanuel.

Ok, now it’s your turn. Like Misha, how would you repeat the story of how Jesus has brought hope and confidence in 2020?

Bringing all of you good news of great joy…Mike Altena

 


Rich or Poor

Next Thursday we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. While our whole Christian experience is lived out of gratitude, it is so good to stop and reflect on the many reasons we can be thankful. If you’re like me, then you have learned that being thankful is a matter of perspective; either we can see life’s blessings as a gift from God, or we can perceive those blessings as something God owes us.

Below is one of my favorite stories that affirms the truth that being thankful is a matter of perspective. I’m not sure who sent me the story; the title at the top of the page is “The Rich Family in Our Church” by Eddie Ogan (From Wit and Wisdom- June 1998).

 

I’ll never forget Thanksgiving 1946, I was 14, my little sister Ocy,12, and my oldest sister Darlene, 16. We lived at home with mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things. My dad had died 5 years before, leaving mom with seven school kids to raise and no money. By 1946, my older sisters were married and my brothers had left home.

A month before Thanksgiving Day, the Pastor of our church announced that a special Thanksgiving Day offering would be taken for a poor family. He asked everyone to save up and then give sacrificially. When we got home we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. That would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. Then we decided that if we kept the electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on our electric bill.

Darlene found as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1. We eventually made $20 on pot holders. That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we saved. At night we would sit in the dark and talk how the poor family was going to enjoy the money the church would give to them. We had about 80 people in church, so we figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would be 20 times as much! After all, the Pastor reminded us every Sunday to save up for the special offering.

The day before Thanksgiving Day, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene, we had never had so much money before. That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering. We could hardly wait to get to church.

On Thanksgiving morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in the bottom of her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart and her feet got wet, but we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on some old dresses, but I looked at them in their new clothes and still felt so rich.

When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting in the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us put in a $20 bill. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch mom had a surprise for us, she had bought a dozen eggs to go with our fried potatoes.

Later that afternoon, the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out dropped a bunch of money; there were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 bill and seventeen $1 bills. Mom put the money back in the envelope, we didn’t talk, and we just stared at the floor.

We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash. We kids had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have a mom and dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share the few pieces of silverware we had and who would get the fork or spoon that night. We had two knives which we passed to whoever needed them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of things other people had, but I never thought we were poor, we were just thankful for what we did have. That day, I found out we were poor. The minister had brought us the money for the “poor family,” so we must be poor.

I didn’t like being poor, I looked at my dress and worn out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor! I thought about school, I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class; I began to wonder if the kids at school knew we were poor. I decided I could quit school since the law only required going through the eighth grade. We sat in silence for a long time; and then we went to bed.

All that next week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally, on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know, we’d never known we were poor.

We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but mom said we had to. Although it was sunny, we didn’t talk on the way. Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church we had a missionary speaker who talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks. He said $100 would put a roof on a church.

After the missionary finished speaking, our Pastor said, “Can’t we all sacrifice and help these poor people?” We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached in her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me and I gave it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”

Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over a $100”. We were the “rich” family in the church! The missionary said so. From that day on I’ve never been poor again. I’ve always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus.

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God… Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, 15.

May God be praised as you and I reflect on the blessings he has so abundantly poured out on us, regardless of whether we perceive this past year as good or bad.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mike Altena