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

 


Think About It

I was recently visiting a farmer and he was telling me about how good some of the yields are in his fields. He said it’s amazing what kind of crop God can produce with so little rain during the most critical growing stage this summer.

And then in the past two weeks I’ve had at last three conversations with people who are facing significant health issues; each of them shared with me about how they were experiencing the power and presence of God.

Add to it my visits with several of our elderly members who are still on lockdown, a couple of whom are being quarantined, they are lonely and discouraged, and yet each of them mentioned the goodness of God.

In addition I was visiting with a friend and we were reflecting on many of the strange events that happened this past year and how emotionally exhausted many people feel, and yet he gave testimony of how he felt the Lord was upholding him.

And this past week I was processing the level of anxiety our country is experiencing around the election and how each side feels doomed if the other side wins. But then a sense of peace washed over me because, although I am a citizen of a country that is experiencing the consequences of wandering far from the life of God, more importantly I am also a citizen of a kingdom that is flourishing.

When spending some time reflecting on where I’ve seen God at work lately, the Spirit reminded me of Psalm 145. Let me encourage you to pause now and reflect on your current reality. (Pause). Ok, now read each verse slowly, meditating on the nature of God.

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

OK after meditating for just a few minutes on the verses above, doesn’t your heart feel full of joy and so full of hope and so full of peace? Don’t you just feel so loved by God?  What attribute of God do you celebrate today? What wonderful work of God could you tell your kids or grandkids about?

Feeling overwhelmed by my God the King,

Mike Altena

 


Always Reforming

This past Thursday I was traveling north on Highway 75 near the tennis courts when the overhead warning lights began to flash. As I was stopped to allow a young boy to cross the road on his bike in the midst of the freezing rain and sleet, two thoughts came to mind; the first was a childhood memory of when my parents would make me ride my bike all the way across town in freezing rain and sleet to go to school. No, it wasn’t three miles uphill, but the distance was far enough for me to experience extreme suffering from the ride.

The second thought that came to mind was the days of when the crossing guards stood out there in the frigid weather elements in order to help the kids cross the highway. I thought about all the days poor Kevin the Pizza Man stood out there when all the state would’ve had to do was put up the warning lights.

I also remembered thinking about what a bad idea it was to replace the crossing guards with those warning lights. I was certain some little child would eventually get hit by some motorist who wasn’t paying attention. However, so far the warning lights have been a good reformation in how the kids are able to cross the highway.

Speaking of reformation, this coming Saturday, October 31, marks the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that was initiated by Martin Luther back in 1517. Luther had major concerns about some of the leadership practices and abuses that were hindering the fruitfulness of God’s Church. The common folk were being deceived as to how a person attained salvation. The spiritual abuse taking place was that the people were forced to pay money to the church government in order to have their sins forgiven or to have their loved ones set free from purgatory.

As Luther reflected on those who were governing the Church, and the way they were conducting their lives, he realized it was time for reform. As Luther interpreted Scripture, it was clear to him that the current practices of the Church of that day were far from the intended purpose of the Church that Jesus died for. The truth of the Bible had become twisted and distorted and rather than becoming life changing and freeing, following Jesus had been reduced to religious bureaucracy. What a sad testimony about the Bride of Christ.

So what do you think? Would you say 500 years later that the Church in America is any healthier or fruitful? Maybe we aren’t charging people to have their sins forgiven, but does our current method of discipleship really equip people to experience the abundant life within the kingdom of God?

Our staff and Churches Learning Change Team have been discussing a need for reformation in our mental model of discipleship. Over time the pseudo gospel that is being presented is that if you’ve been baptized or if you just believe in Jesus, you’ve punched your ticket into heaven. And that when many people place their trust in Jesus, they have little interest in becoming a disciple that obeys everything Jesus taught.

Could it be that another reformation must take place in order to help people become more passionate about proclaiming and demonstrating the message of the kingdom of God?

When you think about discipleship as Jesus modeled, what forms of reformation are needed? More authentic community? An increase in radical obedience among Christ’s followers? Greater use of spiritual disciplines to strengthen our relationship with God and our witness to the world?

Most often reformations begin in the midst of desperation—in the midst of recognizing there may be a more effective way. May it be said of you and me that we would continually be open to reforming according to the Word of God! Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Reformed and always reforming,

Mike Altena

 


Confirmation Hearings

Although not closely, over the past four days I’ve been keeping my eye on the confirmation hearings of the Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. While I have limited knowledge of the process, my understanding is that it’s designed to determine whether or not Judge Barrett would be qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

Prior to watching the last confirmation hearing for Judge Cavanaugh and the current confirmation hearings,  I had never really paid attention to them. What I discovered is that these confirmation hearings are not only to determine if a person is a qualified judge, but they have also become battles between light and dark.

I fully understand that there must be a certain line of questioning that would reveal the competency and character of the person being examined. However, it has become clear to me that these hearings have merely become interrogations on how that nominee would vote on the hot-button issues in our country. In my opinion, the confirmation hearing is just another process that exposes and affirms that the enemy, the devil, continues to prowl around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

As I have been reflecting on the confirmation hearings on whether or not Judge Barret is qualified to be a Supreme Court judge, I think about each person’s process of determining whether or not Jesus is qualified to be their Savior and Lord. I think about how the Pharisees relentlessly tried to trap Jesus and how they slandered him. I think about their level of fear knowing that, if Jesus truly was the King and Messiah of the world, their reign of power would be over. I think about the clash between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of their dead religion.

As I continued to reflect, I thought about the first confirmation hearing in the Garden of Eden when the devil deceived Adam and Even implying that God was not a just and loving God. But rather that God had some personal agenda that would actually keep them from being just like him. The devil continues his attempts to deceive us with the same questions and assumptions today. Did God really say that? Does God really have the right to determine what is true? A just judge and compassionate judge would give me permission to make up my own truth. A just judge would never try stopping me from doing whatever I want to do. And all of the devil’s lines of interrogation are only for the purpose to get us to come to one conclusion like so many of those who were questioning Amy Barrett; there is no God and that truth is whatever I want it to be.

I am grateful that God has raised up an Amy Coney Barrett for such a time as this. And even though the battle between light and darks rages with greater intensity in our country and around the world, I find great peace knowing that God is a just and competent and compassionate and grace filled judge who sent his Son to save us. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21)

Grace to you, and peace, Mike Altena

 


Lend A Hand

Hands down, this is one of the most disturbing news stories in the past two weeks. A court in Slovenia on Friday sentenced a 22-year-old woman to two years in prison for deliberately cutting off her had with a circular saw to make a fraudulent insurance claim.

The district court in Ljubljana said Julija Adlesic agreed with her boyfriend to have her left hand severed above the wrist at their home in the capitol early in 2019. She was found guilty of attempted insurance fraud. About a year earlier, she signed contracts with five different insurance companies, the courts said. The woman stood to collect more than one million euros (approximately $1,185,000), about half paid immediately and the rest in regular monthly installments.

Her boyfriend was sentenced to three years in prison while his father received a one-year suspended sentence.

The pair had taken her to the hospital, saying she had injured herself while sawing branches. Authorities said they left the severed hand behind rather than bringing it to the hospital to ensure the disability was permanent. But police recovered and it was reattached.

Prosecutors said that days before the incident, Adlesic’s partner searched for information on the internet about how an artificial hand works. They claimed that was another proof that it was done deliberately. During the trial, the woman claimed innocence, saying she would never have cut her hand off deliberately. “No one wants to be crippled,” she told the courts. My youth has been destroyed. I lost my hand at the age of 20. Only I know how it happened.”

The trial has attracted lots of public media attention in the small Alpine state.

“We believe the sentences are fair and appropriate, and will serve their purpose,” Judge Marjeta Dvornik said.  (https://abcnews.go.com /international/wireStory/Slovenian-woman-cut-hand-insurance-payout-72946034)

After reading the story you gotta hand it to her, she was dedicated to her plan, even if it was cut short by the courts.

Rumor had it that, after the court case, a reporter asked Julija how the investigators determined it wasn’t an accident to which the woman replied, “I’m stumped. It doesn’t matter, I cut off my left had so I’ll be ‘alright’.” Maybe, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the court costs will eventually cost her an arm and a leg too.

I’m not sure Julija was aware that a bird in the severed hand is worth two in the bush. And then you never know how this might have affected her friendships, like after she gets out of prison, will anyone give her a hand if she wants to go shopping at the second hand store?

The more I thought about it, I think the Bible has some things to say about people who try things that are underhanded. From Proverbs 13:11, “Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.”

Or from Proverbs 28:19-20, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”

And probably the most applicable from Ecclesiastes 5:13-14, “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.”

My heart breaks for this woman and her boyfriend. If she just would’ve followed Jesus’ instructions in Mathew 5:30, they might have avoided prison time. “And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”

May it not be so with you and me that we want to get rich and fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge a person into ruin and destruction.

Always willing to lend a hand,

Mike Altena

 


Anniversary Sentiments

The subject of this article isn’t what I thought it was going to be, but I hope you still like it because it cost me $13.98. See, just before I was going to sit down and write my other thoughts, the Spirit reminded me I had better get an anniversary card because our anniversary is tomorrow (August 28).

Now normally a tradition on our anniversary for Vicki and me is to go to the card section in some store and look for the card we would give each other. Then, after we find just the right card that verbalizes the exact sentiment of our hearts, we exchange the cards and then read them right in the aisle of the store. Then after we wipe our tears of joy and happiness away we put the cards back and then we share a little public display of affection.

Of course, the whole point is to save the $13.98 we would’ve spent on the cards so we can buy pizza later. But we decided we weren’t going to do that this year because this anniversary is a special year for us; yep, 39 years of marital bliss.

Anyway, I go over to Lewis to find the perfect card. Now, have you ever noticed how self-centered and lame those anniversary cards are? Just listen to the message of this card. He tries to tell her how much he loves her, but who is the focus of the card?

To the woman I love with all my heart.

Marrying you is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

You’re my partner, the love of my life, and my best friend.

Having your love makes such a difference in my life—

just knowing you’re there, supporting and caring for me means everything…

I’m grateful for our life together. I love you so much and I always will.

Happy Anniversary.

Yes the whole message is all about ME! The romantic words on the card are all about everything the wife does for her husband. For some reason I picture this husband as a couch potato who doesn’t haven’t a job. I picture the husband who buys this card for his wife is like a child who uses his wife as his comfort blanket. Of course he loves her! “Just knowing you’re there…” What?!! I can tell he doesn’t want to talk to her or do anything with her, he’s just glad she’s in the same room. He says it “means everything…” although; he didn’t take the time to give some concrete examples.  Poor woman, he didn’t love her nearly as much as he loved himself.

And then how about the message of this card. Like, who makes this stuff up?

To the woman who makes my life amazing.

I wouldn’t change a thing about our life together—

Every step, every challenge,

every beautiful moment that has brought us to this day makes us who we are.

I’m proud of us, of all we’ve seen and done, and I couldn’t be more in love with you.

Happy Anniversary

Okay first, isn’t Jesus the one who makes our life amazing? Second, maybe this guy can’t think of anything he would change about his marriage, but I bet his wife could. I could think of lots of things I would change. (Having written that for the whole world to see, I’m pretty sure Vicki is going to want to talk about that while we eat our pizza. Please pray for me. ☺

And no, not every challenge or every beautiful moment has made us who we are. Who we are is only by God’s grace which then erases any chance of becoming proud of who we have become. Apparently the author of this card doesn’t even know that pride comes before the fall. So, let’s give credit where credit is due. The reason I couldn’t be more in love with Vicki is that God has filled our hearts full of love by his Holy Spirit.

Ok, that’s enough fun; hopefully you’ve enjoyed giving some thought to my challenge of finding a meaningful anniversary card. Please pray for Vicki, 39 years is a long time to be married to me. He who finds a wife finds a good thing. Proverbs 18:22. And the wife must respect her husband ☺, Mike Altena

 


Let’s Talk

Many of my evenings this summer have been spent with young people who have already entered into their marriage covenant, or who are about to. In addition to addressing nine other areas of their relationship, much time is spent on communication. According to the Prepare/Enrich material that I use in our sessions, communication is, “We share feelings and understand each other.”

One statement on the pre-marriage assessment is, “I wish my partner were more willing to share his/her thoughts and feelings with me.” To which most gals are like, “Yes!” And most guys are like, “No, she shares more than enough of her feelings with me.”

Whether you and your spouse have developed healthy communication skills, or your communication could use a dose of vitality, I thought I would share an adapted version of some communication tips that were sent to me from Prepare/Enrich.

When you finally get the chance to reconnect with your partner at the end of the day, what do you say?

“Hi, honey. How was your day?”  “Good. How was yours?”  “Good.”

There’s definitely nothing wrong with that question! It shows you’re interested in each other’s daily lives and can be a great way to start a more in-depth conversation. But when you both start asking the question mindlessly and responding with one word answers, it might be time to say hey, we can do better.

So what could you do to take your end-of-the-day conversation to a deeper level? Therapists and researchers John Gottman and Bill Doherty both believe that “rituals of connection” are an important tool in nurturing successful relationships. Create a daily ritual where you intentionally reconnect each evening, whether it’s after supper or after the kids are in bed.

To get you started here are five questions to ask instead of “How was your day?”

  • What made you laugh out loud today? This might sound like a silly question, but more than likely it will lead to sharing a story, whether it’s to provide context or explain what happened. Out of this you might learn more about your partner, increasing your connection.
  • If your day was a meal/song/color, what would it be and why? Here’s another question you can have fun with, but that can actually give you insight into the flow of each other’s day.
  • What gave you a sense of accomplishment today? Sure, you might find out about a big work project or the third day in a row of hitting their step goal, but the conversation might take a deeper dive as well. Maybe they don’t know how to answer because they’ve been struggling with balancing work and home responsibilities, and that’s okay. The goal is to have a more meaningful conversation or at the very least give yourselves the opportunity for one.
  • How would you like today to end? Maybe their day was so busy they didn’t have a spare moment to catch their breath, and now all they need is some quiet time to relax. Maybe it was a bad day and they just want to leave it all behind them and play games with the kids. Either way, it gives them an opportunity to tell you exactly what they need – and an opportunity for you to help make it happen.
  • What did you learn today? Sure, this might sound more like something you’d ask your kids after school, but hey, we adults learn new things, too! Maybe it’s an interesting factoid from that new podcast they’re listening to. Or perhaps they learned they shouldn’t stay up so late reading (they were dragging today) or to always make sure the blender cover is on tight. Whatever it is, you can hopefully also learn something new about each other.

In Song of Songs 2:15 the Lover invites the Beloved to, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” May it not be so with you and me that we would let a lack of authentic communication with our spouses be the “little fox” that ruins your marriage.

Grace and peace to you, Mike Altena

 


Almost Home

This past Monday I traveled to Sioux Center to pick up our oldest three granddaughters so I could bring them to Inspiration Hills where they spent a few days with Vicki. Shortly before we reached Rock Valley, I heard a little voice from the back seat asking a question I hadn’t heard in a long time. You guessed it, Noelle who is four years old asked, “Grandpa, are we almost there yet?” She was so excited to reach our destination.

I responded by letting her know we were about half way to which my seven year old granddaughter responded, “Really, Grandpa, it seems like we have been traveling only for five minutes.” Sauren then went on to explain to Noelle that the drive to Inspiration Hills would not take that long at all. For one granddaughter, the trip wasn’t going fast enough because she couldn’t wait to so see Grandma and the cabin. For the second granddaughter, the trip was going really fast. And then there was Rilyn, she was already sleeping in the front seat, oblivious to how fast the trip was or wasn’t going.

As I continued to drive, I began to reflect on our journey through life. I especially wondered why we often find it difficult to enjoy the speed at which life is going. I can remember when our kids were toddlers I couldn’t wait until they got to the age where I could play ball and do other fun things with them. Then when Jonathon went off to college and moved to Minneapolis, I remember thinking that the journey of life is going way to fast.

After a difficult conversation during our Consistory meeting about a very divisive topic that has no real easy solutions, I found myself asking, “Father are we almost there yet?” I just want this journey through the covid pandemic to be over. Like Noelle, I find part of this journey difficult to enjoy.  This part of the journey feels like Psalm 90:10, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are sorrow and trouble, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

And yet by the grace of God, I know this is what awaits me, from Revelation 21:3-4 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

May it not be so with you and me that we have become tired or impatient with our present journey, but rather that we keep our eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross. Consider him so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I leave you the link and some the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Mercy Me, Almost Home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lKdHXfpsFQ

Are you disappointed? Are you desperate for help? You know what it’s like to be tired and only a shell of yourself… Well this road will be hard. But we win in the end. Simply because of Jesus in us, it’s not if, but when. So take joy in the journey, even when it feels long. Oh find strength in each step knowing heaven is cheering you on.

We are almost home brother it won’t be long. Soon all your burdens will be gone. With all of your strength, sister, run wild and free. Hold up your head keep pressing on. We are almost home…

I know that the cross has brought heaven to us. But make no mistake there’s still more to come. When our flesh and our bones are no longer between. Where we are right now and where we’re meant to be. When all that’s been lost has been made whole again. When the tears and this pain no longer exist. No more walking, we’re running as fast as we can. Consider this our second wind. Keep pressing on. We’re almost home. Almost home!

Keep pressing on,

Mike Altena

 


Let’s Go Out For Supper

One of the things I appreciate about Vicki is her ability to cook and bake. She just has a knack for making really good meals and goodies, and she’s always trying something new. And since I highly dislike cooking or baking, even more I appreciate that she has been willing to cook for me day after day after day for nearly 39 years now.

That being said, there are those days, when I get a text late in the afternoon saying, hey it’s been a really busy day for me, do you mind if we just go out for supper tonight. I would guess many wives and moms know what I’m talking about; there are those times when you just don’t have the time or energy to cook something up and so you go out and let someone else do the cooking for you.

Well, in some ways I can identify. Not necessarily when it comes to cooking food, but when it comes to writing this archive article. Most often writing these articles is fun and they come fairly easy. Most articles begin when something happens during my week that interacts with the gospel. However this week I had so many exciting and challenging events happen that when I sat down to write about them I felt paralyzed. I actually sat at my computer for an hour and half this morning (Friday) trying to put my thoughts on paper. I felt mentally and emotionally tired. And because I gave some of my challenges to much space in my head, I sensed the flow from the Holy Spirit had dried up

I finally gave up and sent an e-mail to Erin saying, I’m not going to have an article for this week. Basically I was throwing up the white flag, I wanted to cook up a great article for all of you to feast on, but    in the end I just didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to write anything. So I’m asking you as you read this, would it be ok if we just go out for dinner tonight? Would it be okay if I just let Jesus feed you in this article?

Well, I’m guessing, like I always am when Vicki asks if we can go out, you are more than happy to let Jesus prepare the spiritual meal for this article. So here it is; this is what I’m going to feast on and hope you enjoy it too.

From Matthew 11:28-30, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And for desert, for those who are reading this on your electronic devices, please click on this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGFDplYGG-U

May in not be so with you and me that we become burned out with the rhythms of our current reality, but rather may it be so with you and me that we learn from the unforced rhythms of grace. Thanks so much for giving me permission to take a “real rest.”

May God bless you and keep, may his face shine on you and be gracious to you, and may the Lord turn his face toward you and grant you shalom.

Mike Altena

 


Optional or Required

One of the ongoing debates within the Covid pandemic is whether or not a person should wear a mask. With the recent spike in Covid cases, it appears that there are many more businesses, cities, or states mandating mask wearing. In preparing for the opening of school this fall, I believe one of the questions administrators are wrestling with is, do we make the children wear masks.

On one level the debate is about health. Does wearing a mask actually keep a person from receiving or transmitting the disease? Or does wearing a mask only serve as a reminder not to touch your face? And then are there any negative health effects from connecting the intake manifold to the exhaust system, if you know what I mean. Some people would claim wearing a mask is like sitting in the garage with the car running. Many people have difficulty breathing when wearing a mask.

On another level, the debate seems to be about personal freedom. Many people have the sense that no one has the right to tell them whether or not they have to wear a mask. Many people fear that mandating the wearing of masks is only a way for the government to see how easily the public submits to their rule. But then there are those who argue, it’s really not a matter of freedom, if you really cared about me, you would wear your mask. I’m still not sure if I should be wearing a mask because I love me, or should I wear a mask because I love you.

And then a final reason we resist the idea of wearing a mask is because of the impact it might have on our appearance. I wonder if in fact by wearing masks the spread of the covid virus was completely stopped, would some people still refuse to wear a mask because of how it makes them look. Such vanity.  🙂

As I reflect on my process of discerning whether wearing a mask is “right for me,” I realize I often use the same arguments when it comes to obeying God’s instructions. For example, in Luke 14:26-27 Jesus gave these instructions, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

In this passage Jesus basically is informing me as I count the cost of following him, that if I’m not willing to elevate my relationship with Jesus and engaging his mission as the highest priority in my life, then I cannot be his disciple.

And yet when reading those shocking expectations, just like when deciding if I’m going to wear a mask, I begin to question whether or not this is a command or suggestion from Jesus. Like, is picking up my cross of rejection and suffering really necessary? Can I get to heaven without making Jesus my top priority? What would my family and friends think of me if I became a “Jesus freak?”  Is Jesus establishing those guidelines and qualifications for my good, or is he just seeing how far he can push me to submit? And can I actually love Jesus without giving so much of myself?

Should I wear a mask? Certainly in those places where it’s required, otherwise, still optional for me.

Should I make Jesus and his mission the highest priority in my life; even if it leads to persecution and suffering? May it not be so with me that I would ever question, resist, or consider this mandate from Jesus as optional.

And my prayer is the same will be true for you.

Grace and peace to you, Mike Altena