Daily Toil

After replacing the two windows on the north side of our house recently and then looking at all the paint that is peeling, I began to reflect on how much time and money we spend on maintenance.

Changing the oil, rotating the tires, mowing the lawn, replacing the bearing, getting your hairs cut, oiling the roller chains, vacuuming the living room floor, having a body part fixed or replaced, filling the water softener tub with salt, drinking a glass of water, sharpening the blade, trimming your nails, washing the car, meeting with your mentor, washing the clothes, going to the meeting, washing the body, fixing the fence, painting the deck, replacing the light bulb, trimming the trees, replacing the roll of toilet paper, going to the chiropractor, going to the eye doctor, going to the body doctor, and going to the teeth doctor, trimming the lawn and trimming the long hair growing in your ears, sweeping out the garage, trimming the trees and the hair that grows in your nose, eating breakfast, cleaning the barbeque grill, pausing to pray for yourself or with a friend, spraying for bugs, replacing the ink in the copier, picking up rocks, washing the windows, cleaning your glasses, gathering for worship, dusting the end table, greasing the bearings, fixing the gate, repairing the water way, replacing the o-rings in the faucet, taking a nap,         re-siding the house, going on a date night, edging the side walk, emptying the garbage, studying your Bible, cleaning the shower, picking up branches and twigs, getting your vaccine shots, refilling the bird feeder, writing a note of encouragement, running on the elliptical, going to bed for the a good night’s rest (or for whatever sleep you can get in your season of life), pulling weeds, watering the flowers, replacing the shingles, brushing your teeth, eating lunch, meeting a friend for coffee, ironing your dress shirts, re-seeding the bare spot in the lawn, observing a daily office, spraying the weeds, staining the deck, mopping the floor, blowing out the air filter, singing along with a worship song, replacing the furnace filter, enjoying a bonfire with your spouse or family…I’ll let you finish the list.

When I reflect on my list of all that we do to maintain our daily lives, two scriptures come to mind, the first is from Genesis 1:28 where God invites us to join him as co-creators both in word and action.  God has given us the responsibility of managing and stewarding the earth.

The second is a few verses from Ecclesiastes 3. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;…What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time….12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Grace and peace to you as you enjoy the gift of life, even in the midst of the daily toil, Mike Altena

 


Weed Sowing

If I remember right, in 2017 we had a hot and dry spell that lasted long enough that a portion of the grass in my front yard went dormant. So dormant in fact that when the rains came and the temperatures cooled in the fall, there was a significant dead spot in my lawn.

Seeing that the lawn was dead and that it wouldn’t be growing back, that fall I lightly tilled it up and sowed some new seed. I began to water the area and faithfully continued to water that area until winter set in with no signs of new growth.

So in the spring of 2018, I lightly tilled up the area again and sowed some more new grass. Although I barely needed to water the area because of all the rain we had during May of last year, I continued to water the area during the month of June—but still no new grass grew. Later in the summer I had a friend who has an over-seeder come and he sowed some more new grass into the sun-scorched and barren area of my lawn.  Again I faithfully watered the area, however, after sowing nearly enough grass to cover a football field—STILL NOTHING!! (So much for Scott’s Turf Builder Quick Mix Fix Grass Seed)

After months of sleepless nights trying to discern if I have a soil problem or a seed problem, I planned on trying to re-seed again this spring. However with all the rain, I have been unable to do anything with the area.  Now here’s a most disturbing discovery over the past few weeks, apparently while I wasn’t paying attention, someone snuck in and sowed a nice fresh crop of clover.  Like, how does that work? I spend all that energy trying to grow good seed, but then an enemy of mine comes in and sows some clover and it pops right up.

Kind of reminds me of when Jesus told the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13, 24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.”

Now if you’re like the disciples and me, you would like an explanation of what the parable means. And like for the disciples, Jesus is also pleased to clarify for us. 37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil.

After spending a week in Washington DC in May, it’s become clear to me that the battle between the good seed that Jesus is sowing and the bad seeds the devil is sowing is intensifying. The devil has clearly intensified his weed sowing efforts in our state and in our country in hopes of choking out the good seed.

Life in such a kingdom, until Jesus comes again, has the potential to be much more difficult so it’s vitally important for us to continue to stand strong and to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

And unlike that pesky clover that is corrupting my lawn, may it not be so with you and me that when the harvester comes that he would find us corrupting his kingdom.

Shining like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father, Mike Altena

 


The Now and The Not Yet

On April 30, some of the staff attended an event sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary at Central Church in Sioux Falls. The topic of the Hiller Lectureship was “Invigorating Abundant Communities: How to Invigorate Revelation’s Eschatology in our Churches and Neighborhoods.

The very thought provoking, convicting and yet affirming, day-long lecture from the book of Revelation by Dr Ralph Korner who is the Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, AB was divided in to these three main points:

  1. The IMMENENCE of Christ’s RETURN FOR His Church…which INVIGORATES our living for Christ.
  2. The IMMANENCE of His PRESENCE IN the Church…which gives hope for an ABUNDANCE of fellowship in Christ.
  3. The ESSENCE of His PURPOSE THROUGH His Church…which focuses us on COMMUNITY development and development of community.

Although at first glance the outline might appear a bit complex, I found the content to be very applicable.

Summarizing the three-part lecture for you, using a wide variety of texts from the books of Revelation and John, Dr. Korner talked about the fact that Jesus’ second coming is imminent  which should stir our hearts to passionately live with and for Christ. The fact that Jesus is coming again should compel us to deepen our relationship with God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Then, birthed out of our experience of enjoying the presence of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can already enjoy the beautiful reality of community life in the kingdom of God right now here on earth. That’s right! We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience the joy of eternal life!

In one of the most challenging parts of his lecture, Dr. Korner suggested that when Jesus said he was going away to prepare a place for us and that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, he was simply implying that he is the way into the family of God.

So another translation of John 14:2 and John 14:6 could sound like this. “In my Father’s household (the family of God) are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you (in the bigger context of the family of God—whatever faith family you choose to be a part of)….I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (in)to (an intimate relationship) with the Father (during one’s life time on earth) except through (a whole-life commitment) to me.” And the point being, the purpose of our spiritual formation is simply to grow into who we are already as a child of God and as a citizen of God’s kingdom in the daily woop and warf of our lives!

And the way we fulfill the purpose of the Church then is by focusing on community development and development of community. And this was the part that was both convicting and affirming me. Convicting in that God has showered his grace and mercy on me, and yet there are certain neighbors and situations where I withhold grace and mercy. And yet affirming when I think of all the ways our ministry is seeking to bring the kingdom of heaven to our community and county.

And for that, I just want to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who have been invigorated by Revelation’s eschatology and therefore have been intentional about working in cooperation with God in developing abundant community in your circle of influence. I feel so blessed to be able to join you on this mission as we eagerly anticipate Jesus’ return!

Fully enjoying the now and the not yet, Mike Altena

 

 


Instructions for Christian Living

Instructions for Christian Living from Ephesians 4:17-5:17. This is an exercise in hearing from God. Please invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you and then slowly and carefully read the following verses.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

What did you hear? Choose a phrase, a sentence or a verse that stuck out to you. Meditate on it. Thank God for speaking to you! If you are currently not doing any other devotions, I challenge you to read this passage everyday for the next week; listening for new instruction each day.

Seeking to live as a child of light, Mike Altena

 


Concerned and Confident

By now most of you are aware of the 20/20 Vision Team of the RCA which has been tasked with providing options for how our denomination will live out the gospel in the future, especially in regards to how we interpret scripture in regards to human sexuality. One of the options may result in some form of a split in our denomination.

After hearing the update from Rev. Tom Smith, Coordinator of Ministries of the Synod of the Heartland on Sunday, March 31, a concerned member stopped by my office to express her deep sense of disappointment in regards to the possible impact of future decisions. She was especially concerned about the impact of ignoring what scripture says about human sexuality and the effect it might have on the children of our congregation.

I certainly share her concern of how a “progressive” theology among many self-proclaimed Christians is undermining God’s will for us to be reformed, transformed, and conformed to the likeness of God’s Son. We should be concerned any time we are deceived with the question “Did God really say…?” Twisting God’s Word to make it fit what our itching ears want to hear will always result in a darkened life far from the life of God. This is also the very reason I expressed to her that I have far greater concerns for our children than whether or not they become confused about their gender or sexuality.

See, because I am also concerned that many parents are apprenticing their children to believe that you can be Christian without actually following Jesus. My concern is that parents are teaching their children a false gospel that deceives them into thinking that if they believe in Jesus; one day when they die they will go to heaven regardless if they have any desire to repent from their sin.

It also concerns me when watching the little child who passionately loves and worships God as a five year old, but then as they become more self-conscience in middle school and more self-centered in high school, they appear to care less about being an active disciple of Jesus. With approval from their parents, many of our youth make the shift from Jesus being at the center of their life to relegating Jesus as one of many options that may enhance their already very busy life.

Even as I reflect on my once very passive journey of discovering who God is, who I am, and what God wants to do with my life, it concerns me that our current process of making disciples results in many young people and adults who lack passion for, or who are disillusioned with God.

Although concerned about a variety of apostate trends among those who claim to follow Jesus in our day, I also realize I must not be surprised. When Jesus was teaching the crowds about the beautiful reality of community life in the kingdom of God he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

That being said, we need not be discouraged. Because, even though only a few will find the narrow way that leads to life, you and I can also be confident “…that he [God] who began a good work in them will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

“For it is God’s will that you be sanctified…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life….So now, may the God of peace sanctify you and me through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls us is faithful and he will do it!!!!!”  1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7, 23-24)

Concerned and confident, Mike Altena

 


Growing Courage

In last week’s article I shared a small portion of our learning about the value of courage at our Ridder: Churches Learning Change retreat. Hey, by the way, wasn’t that a great video I suggested for you to watch!! My favorite line is when he says, “I know this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It’s my aliveness coming to get me.” When it comes to living on mission with Jesus, it takes a great deal of courage to let go of what is familiar in order to grab on to what is unknown.

Again, the definition for courage we were given is, courage is getting or staying in action, as wholehearted children of God, regardless of fear, anxiety, shame, or real or imagined consequences. Well, at the end of the article I pretended not to know how to grow courage and so I asked you to send me your thoughts in regards to this question: So how do we grow courage? Apparently you also thought I was pretending since I didn’t hear from any of you. ☺

Ok, so here are my thoughts on how to grow courage. First of all, we often grow in courage when we are forced to act in a particular situation because the consequences of doing nothing will be too costly for the other person. For example, if you have a co-worker or neighbor who you discern is darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God due to the hardening of their hearts, you’re not just going to let them go to hell; of course you’re going to muster up the courage to help them discover the good news of Jesus.

And when I think of other ways to grow courage, again I think of David. When it came to fighting Goliath, David found courage in reflecting on past experiences when God empowered him to overcome a situation that appeared to be impossible. When explaining why he had no fear of fighting Goliath, David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Courage is the choice to obey God based on past experiences of God’s faithfulness.

On another occasion David and his troops were out fighting against the Philistines and while they were away, the Amalekites came and destroyed their hometown and kidnapped their wives and children. Of course, David’s soldiers were heartbroken. In fact they were so angry with David that they wanted to kill him, and so in order to overcome his discouragement, it says in I Samuel 30:6 that “David strengthened himself in the Lord.”

You grow courage by learning how to strengthen yourself in the Lord. And you strengthen yourself in the Lord by rehearsing and claiming all of the promises of God. If you read through the Psalms you will find hundreds of promises that David wrote; promises like Psalm 91:14, “The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.”

And then my favorite way to grow courage is by studying the life of Jesus and hanging out with him. I figure if it worked for Peter and John, it will also work for me. Luke records these insights on how to grow courage in Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

So, your aliveness of living on mission with Jesus is coming to get you, may you have the courage to grab on to it!! Hanging on to the old bar is no longer an alternative.

By God’s grace…learning how to fly, Mike Altena

 


Strong and Courageous

Included in my 100 favorite stories in the Bible is the story of David’s encounter with Goliath. The story is told in I Samuel 17. The armies of the Israelite’s and the Philistine’s gathered in the Valley of Elah to wage war. Battles of this magnitude often resulted in heavy death losses on both sides, and so on occasion in order to reduce blood shed, each army would send one man to determine the outcome of the battle.

As the story unfolds, “A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall.” He wore a coat of bronze scale armor which weighed 125 pounds. The end of his spear weighed 15 pounds. His size alone would have been enough to discourage anyone. Each day for 40 days Goliath would walk out onto the battle field and challenged someone to come and fight him saying,  “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

No one had the courage to fight the intimidating Goliath until one day when Jesse sent his son David to the battle field with some snacks for the Israelite army. Upon arrival David discovered the tension between the two armies and after discovering the payout for the person who killed Goliath, David said to King Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

As I ponder David’s courage, I am amazed at how he managed his feelings of fear.  Although numerous times in the Bible we are told not to be afraid, it doesn’t mean that we should never experience fear. Fear is simply an emotion that is naturally produced by a situation that is perceived to be threatening. The command to not be afraid has more to do with how we respond to our emotions of fear. The opposite of being afraid is not the absence of fear, but rather the absence of courage.

Another value the Ridder Team learned about a couple weeks ago was the value of courage. It is impossible for us to live our life as if Jesus were living our life apart from displaying courage. There is no doubt; to follow Christ in mission will require courage.

The definition we were given for courage was: “Getting or staying in action, as wholehearted children of God, regardless of fear, anxiety, shame, or real or imagined consequences.” A shorter definition from John Wayne is “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”

In his devotion on this value of courage, Pastor Scott Stephan writes, “Most Christians have advanced in our spiritual maturity only as far as our courage has taken us. In other words, what is often standing in the way of experiencing God’s emerging future is not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of courage. If that is true, then it’s quite possible that what you and I don’t need is another sermon, but rather “saddling up” and doing what we already know God is calling us to do.”

We all have habitual areas of disobedience that exist solely because we lack the courage to do what we know is right. One of the primary reasons that leaders fail, that relationships break down, that teams become dysfunctional, and that churches become ineffective against the schemes of the devil is simply a failure of nerve—a failure of courage.

So how do we grow in courage?  Well, I’m not sure? So send me your ideas and then I’ll finish my thoughts on the value of courage next week. 🙂 In the meant time check this out!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWvV5N4hOGc

Growing in being strong and courageous,

Mike Altena

 


Aren’t You Curious?

Last weekend the Ridder: Churches Learning Change Team gathered in Sioux Falls with several other teams from churches in northwest Iowa to continue our discussion on how we can grow in becoming more fruitful and effective in personal and corporate missional living. Back in 2016 Vicki Altena, George A. Bonnema, Angie Fick, Erin Jacobsma, Becky Ossefoort, David Sandbulte, and Randy Sasker gave their word to learning with and for our congregation about how we could move towards God’s emerging future for ourselves and for ARC.

Meeting the first and third Tuesday evening of each month, our team spent most of 2016 learning how authenticity and integrity are significant values for living on mission and how the anxiety of change affects a family system. We also reflected on our mental model of discipleship and our mental model of missional living; both of which have a significant impact on the fruitfulness of making disciples.

Next, we spent the first part of 2017 identifying our current reality and the second half considering how we could generate and sustain some creative tension that would help us have a greater impact on blessing our community and also in connecting with those who are far from God. In October 2017 our team and a few other individuals from our congregation attended a Faithwalking Retreat which is a spiritual formation process designed to help a person increasingly follow the way of Jesus.

Then, in the beginning of 2018 we worked through Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, in order to help us grow in discerning where God is inviting us to join him on mission both personally and as a congregation. It has been an exciting process to watch where God has been inviting each person on our team to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel. Most notably we have been really excited to see how God has invited George and his board to address the needs of the senior citizens in our community. Since September we have also been working through Faithwalking 201 which is designed to help remove the obstacles to living an integrated, missional life.

Well, one of the new values we were introduced to last weekend was the value of curiosity. An individual or congregation that seeks to be faithful and fruitful in following Jesus on mission must remain curious. The Churches Learning Change definition we were given is that curiosity = “openly engaging God, others, and self with inquiry and wonder for the purpose of discovering God’s design to live missionally.”

Question: Are you still curious about discovering God’s design for you to join him on mission? Well having had the opportunity to help present the information on this value, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my level of curiosity. Actually I believe curiosity is more than a value we should develop. I believe curiosity is something that God has hardwired into us. We are curious beings from the time we are born. Have you ever heard of a parent who had to teach their child to put something in their mouth, to touch something they shouldn’t, or to ask the question why?

And yet in his book, Leadership on the Line, Ronald Heifetz suggested that, over a period of time while living into God’s call on our life, it is possible that our curiosity will begin to fade. He would argue that the continued resistance to change or the resignation to status quo dulls our capacity for curiosity. So then, in order stay curious, Heifetz would suggest, “The practice of leadership requires the capacity to keep asking the basic questions of yourself and of the people in your organization and community.”

So how about it, what would be some “basic questions” that would stir your curiosity to help you become more clear about the good works God prepared in advance for you to do?

Just curious, Mike Altena

 


Pop the Pimple

As you know, our journey of life is full of many twists and turns and unexpected surprises. Such was the case for Vicki and me this past Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is very special to us not only because it’s a day to celebrate love between friends, but it was also 38 years ago that I drove Vicki out into a rolling meadow by Oak Grove State Park where we sat under a big oak tree and enjoyed a wonderful picnic. And afterwards I asked Vicki to marry me while the song I’ve Been Waiting For A Girl Like You by Foreigner was playing softly in the back ground on my boom box.

Well, rather than going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day this year, Vicki and I decided we would stay home and enjoy a romantic candlelight dinner complete with steak and shrimp, baked potatoes, corn and leftover cheese cake from the coffee shop and a glass of yellow wine (Mountain Dew).  Again we enjoyed a special time together, although I forgot to put the candle on the table.

Feelings of passion were intensifying so Vicki and I decided then that we would cap the night by watching The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story. It’s the story of how an American athlete and a Russian gymnast fall in love right before the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Well wouldn’t you know it, when we turned the television on to begin searching through Netflix for the movie, I discovered that a new episode of Dr. Pimple Popper had just started. So Vicki and I quickly snuggled under our blankets in time to discover that Taylore had an ear keloid on each ear that needed to be clipped off. Ken had several epidermoid and pilar cysts that needed popping and Jose had a two year old lymphoma cyst that was the size of a tennis ball on his forehead that he wanted extracted.

Dr. Pimple Popper maybe wasn’t the love story that we had planned on watching, but it was so exciting to watch each individual find freedom from their pockets of puss. In fact, at times, the show was so full of suspense Vicki couldn’t even watch—it was the perfect night of celebrating love!!

If you’ve ever watched the Dr. Pimple Popper show, then like me, you wonder how all those little juicy cysts and zits begin to grow. And even more amazing to me is why do some of the people let them continue to grow bigger and bigger; one lady had a 45 year old black head removed that looked like a black marble.

Well, because I’m always thinking of something to write about for these articles, I began wondering if there was a spiritual connection between having a pimple removed and our Christian life. After all, after having his lipoma removed from his forehead, Jose said, “Dr Lee has changed my whole life.”  And sure enough, as I was reflecting on the mashed potato like substance that was oozing from the pimples of each individual the Spirit helped me see that those cysts and zits and black heads are like unforgiven offenses or unconfessed sin—the longer you ignore them, the bigger they grow and the nastier they smell when you    pop them.

When it comes to popping the pimple of an offense, Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if you have any grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  And when it comes to extracting the cyst of an unconfessed sin, John urges us in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sin, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

With that in mind, I’d like to close by confessing a sin to you; I have an “epidermoid” growing in me. See I lied to you. I did not take Vicki to a meadow for a picnic and I did not ask to marry her under that tree with the song playing in the background. The truth is, I can’t remember where I took her out for dinner 38 years ago and I actually asked her to marry me while we were sitting in my car on her driveway right before I dropped her off for the night. I’m sorry. There I feel so much better ! Jesus has changed my whole life!!

With love,

Mike Altena

 


Set the Stage

As many of you may have noticed, work has begun on the renovation of the front of the old sanctuary. The stage area will be replaced with rooms for storage.  (For those of you who were at the Congregational meeting, you may remember that the project wasn’t going to begin until all the necessary funds were received. Well Merlin, Adam and Derek from Cleveringa Construction approached the Consistory about getting started earlier so they would have inside work during the next few months. Their proposal also included waiting to send the bill until funds were available, so the Consistory approved their request).

So, the Cleveringa crew quickly moved in on Tuesday, hung some plastic, built some temporary walls and began dismantling the old stage and choir loft. The space that so often was filled with the beautiful songs of the choir and the preaching of the good news of the gospel was replaced with the sounds of hammers pounding, the screeches of crow bars prying apart lumber, cordless saws cutting through perfectly good lumber and the sad, sad sound of country western music. J Even though the stage had been built sturdy enough to drive a semi on it, by quitting time, was almost completely dismantled. The area had been cleared and was almost ready for a “new stage” for enhancing our ministry.

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a very sentimental person—I don’t get too attached to anything that has fulfilled its purpose—and yet as I watched and reflected on the demolition, I felt both a sense of sadness and joy. I began thinking about all of the choir songs and special numbers that were performed on that stage. I thought about all the weddings, the baptisms, the professions of faith, the funerals that were performed by several different pastors. I even thought about the opportunity I had on May 30, 2004 to provide pulpit supply; my first since graduating seminary. I remembered Cory and the youth praise teams leading worship during YEL.

I felt sadness that the stage was gone, and yet I felt great joy when thinking about all the ways God had used that platform to reveal his love and grace to so many of you over the years. And even felt more joy when David Sandbulte brought me a vintage 16 ounce glass Mountain Dew bottle he found under the stage; complete with a soggy cigarette butt in the bottom of it. I began to wonder, did Merlin Cleveringa help build the stage when he was a teenager? Or was it from David’s dad, Henry? Did either of you ever smoke Camel straights? J

As I continued to reflect on my experience, the Spirit brought to mind the story from Luke 5 of when Jesus asked Peter if he could climb in his boat and use it as a stage to preach from. Peter humbly and eagerly welcomed him to use his stage. After he finished preaching, Jesus asked Peter if he would be willing to bring his stage out into the deeper waters to let down his nets and it was there that Jesus invited Peter to become a fisher of men. In a sense Jesus was inviting Peter to leave what was familiar and what likely had resulted in some great memories in order to risk a new adventure with a greater audience.

I thank God for the new stage that we have in the new worship center; I believe God has already revealed his love and his grace in so many ways to so many people from that stage. And yet like Peter, because Jesus said so, I hope each one of us is willing to take a greater risk by taking our stage into deeper waters in order to become fishers of men. “…so they pulled their boats [stages], left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11).

Don’t be afraid…,

Mike Altena