ARC or RCA

In June of last year, the Vision 2020 Team of the Reformed Church of America (RCA) released its study report and suggestion of how to move forward in light of how some churches are interpreting scripture; especially in regards to human sexuality, universalism, and church discipline or the lack of it.

The report painted a picture of a diverse denomination in belief, practice, and even priorities. While it was difficult for the group to reach consensus around how the current reality should be defined, they were united in their assertion that first, deep change was needed to address both the present divisiveness around controversial topics and various areas of organizational dysfunction.

Secondly, they recommend that a new non-profit mission agency be formed independent of the RCA (but in partnership with the RCA) to house what currently makes up the RCA’s work in global missions.

And then thirdly, recognizing that some separation is inevitable, they believed the RCA has an opportunity to act in an exemplary way by providing a generous exit path for those churches which decide to leave and by inviting those churches to also act generously. (All of this information can be found at https://www.rca.org/synod/vision2020/reformed-church-in-america-vision-2020-team-final-report/ ).

Since that report was released, our Consistory has been discussing how American Reformed Church should respond in order to remain faithful to the gospel and to the call God has placed on our church. We have patiently waited to see what possible off ramps and new landing spots might present themselves from the churches who are likely to leave the RCA. We have reflected on the value of denominations and how they enhance or hinder the effectiveness of our ministry.

Questions that we have been seeking answers to are: What about theology? How large of a core of non-negotiables do we desire? Creeds? Confessions? Worship liturgy? Bible interpretation? What form of governance and accountability? Do we want to be part of a large group of churches that holds one another accountable? What value do we find in networking with and supporting other churches in our area? Is it important to be part of a Classis? What about mission? How will being part of a denomination enhance our local, regional, or global mission? Do we need the help and support of denominational staff and resources? And regarding assessments, is the cost to participate worth it?

From June to November several RCA churches or Classes throughout the country began working on new denominations or affiliations. Seven different expressions began to take shape.

In October, the Consistory sent out a questionnaire seeking your thoughts on whether ARC should stay in the RCA, 75% believed we must leave. 20% believed we could stay, 5% believed we must stay.

In December, leaders from the seven different groups met to see if there was enough common ground for one group to be formed. Since then, the leaders of the seven groups have united and are in the process of forming the Alliance of Reformed Churches. And since the initials of our church match the initials of the new alliance, we firmly believe that it is a sign we are supposed to leave the RCA and join the ARC. (OK, just kidding ☺).

However, the Consistory did meet this past week with Pastor Tim Vink who retired from the RCA and now has been hired by the Alliance of Reformed Churches as the Director of Spiritual Formation and Outreach. And although many details are stilled to be decided, we were excited to hear about their vison of how we could partner with them and how they could support us. We were excited to hear about their desire to equip local churches to be rooted in the love of the Father, to be Christ centered, and Spirit empowered.

If you would like to know more about the Alliance of Reformed Churches, you can go to https://arc21.org or check your mailbox for the Alliance of Reformed Churches Organizational Convictions document. And then also, come join us on Sunday, June 6 at 10:45 AM for the informational meeting.

Mike Altena

 


Cheerful Giving

This Sunday marks the conclusion of our Sunday school year. As I reflect on this past year and the challenges presented by Covid 19 I am so grateful for everyone’s flexibility to do whatever was necessary to hold our education classes. For the most part our children’s and youth ministry has not only survived, but in many ways it has also thrived. I thank God for the ways he has protected us and provide for us.

I say “for the most part our ministry has survived” because there has been one area that has seen a significant impact. One significant setback has been in the children’s offering. That’s right, while the adult offering has remained consistently generous, the weekly children’s offering has dropped by a whopping 90 percent!

Friends, the fact that our children’s allowances have been cut back so severely to the point where they almost have nothing left to invest in kingdom ministries creates deep feelings of sadness and concern for me. And I am especially concerned when I think about our parents who have received generous relief payments from the hand of our government. Doesn’t it seem suspicious to you that the government has been sending all kinds of money to our parents, but then our parents are withholding it from their children, so they have little more than a widow’s mite to give as an offering? May it not be so with you and me!!

Okay, so by now you may have guessed I am just kidding. However, the fact that our children’s offering has dropped so low (average $5 per week) has raised some questions. Why do we even take a children’s offering? Would the peer pressure of making the kids bring their offering forward during the worship service increase giving amounts? Where do the children from 4th grade to 12th grade give their gift? At what point does a child shift their giving from the children’s offering to the adult offering? Are parents teaching their children about Biblical stewardship and the joy of giving? And I hope it doesn’t come to this, but should the deacons begin visiting the parents to see why they are withholding a portion of their relief check from their children? ☺

Now, I want to be clear about the intent of this article. Personally, I appreciate the effort Becky puts into finding worthy kingdom causes to invest in, however my point is not to guilt the children into giving more money. And yet I do hope and pray that parents are teaching Biblical stewardship and the joy of giving at a very young age.

Parents, when apprenticing your children in the area of giving, I hope you use the Macedonians as the model. The Apostle Paul tells the story in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 about the generous spirit of the Macedonians even though they had little themselves. Here are a few selected verses. 1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people… Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

The vision for our ministry is to apprentice future generations to passionately proclaim and demonstrate the good news of the kingdom and according to these verses, one of the greatest ways you can teach your children how to demonstrate the gospel message is through generous and cheerful giving. May it be so with you and me and our children!! Looks like lots more government relief payments from July through December to invest in the kingdom!

Overflowing with thanks to God, Mike Altena

 


Wait It Out

When thinking about the evil invading our society, (e.g. story in the news about Virginia parents who confront Loudoun County school board over critical race theory, ‘pornographic’ books in school), I often find myself wondering what my role is in addressing evil.

On one hand the Apostle Paul suggests in Galatians 6 that “if someone is caught in sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” I suppose the assumption is the person who is “caught in sin” is a follower of the Way so I should do something.

On the other hand, this morning I spent some time mediating on Jesus’ 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.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

So like the disciples, you and I might not be clear on how to interpret the parable. Thankfully, Jesus patiently explains the parable of the weeds to his disciples and to us. Here is how to understand the parable of the weeds. 36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

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. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

Am I understanding this correctly, there are times to engage someone who is caught in sin, and at other times we are to live patiently in the midst of, and with the consequences of, those who are spreading evil? Do you think the parents in Loudoun County should have confronted the school board, or should they just let them continue to do what evil people do?

Grace to you and peace,

Mike Altena

 


Christ’s Home

If you want to see ME, stop by any time. If you want to see my HOUSE, make an appointment. I have aspirations of my house looking like a spread in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, but it definitely is not. An unexpected visitor most likely would find blankets strewn on the sofa, dishes littering the counter top, books stacked on the end tables, papers and mail clustered on the table, and laundry piled in front of the washing machine. I guess it’s what they called the lived–in look. This is my norm. My home. Not picture perfect in any way.

As I sat down in my recliner for my morning quiet time, and grabbed a blanket from the floor, I was greeted with Jesus words recorded in John 14:23. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Author Jim Maxim continued with these thoughts: “Jesus Christ spoke these glorious words of promise to his disciples: to the one who loves Him and follows His teaching, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit would come into his heart and make a home in him forever! It is astounding that God himself would make his home in us.”

A question whirled through my head as I glanced at the clutter around me. Why would anyone want to make a home with me? Martha Stewart would be appalled.

My morning continued with a walk to the barn and I pointed out to Jesus that if he really wanted to make a home with me a little clutter was the least of my problems. Sometimes “home” resembled my sheep pen at that moment, ripe with the smells of urine, manure, and damp wool; gross and disgusting, not neat and clean.

Now I realize when Jesus stated his desire to make a home with us, he wasn’t talking about getting a mortgage together, moving furniture, and decorating walls. He wants to do life with us, be in relationship with us. He wants to live in our hearts and be Lord of our lives.

I felt convicted that as much as I want my heart to be pristine and put-together, it is often littered with anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness. There are foul odors of envy, pride, resentment, and self-righteousness. Like the apostle Paul states in Romans 7:15, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very things I hate.”

In his booklet “My Heart-Christ’s Home” Robert Boyd Munger says “I will never forget the evening I invited Jesus into my heart. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness and harmony where there had been discord. He filled the emptiness with his own loving fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will. This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ’s home. He has said, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Rev 3:20). If you want to know the reality of God and the personal presence of Jesus Christ at the innermost part of your being, simply open wide the door and ask him to come in and be your Savior and Lord.”

Munger continues, “After Christ entered my heart, in the joy of that new-found relationship, I said to him, ‘Lord, I want this heart of mine to be yours. I want you to settle down here and be fully at home. I want you to use it as your own. Let me show you around and point out some of the features of the home so that you may be more comfortable. I want you to enjoy our time together.”

I have several copies of “My Heart-Christ’s Home” if you would like to read more about a home that’s fit for the Lord. It is my pray for each of you, that you would open your heart to Jesus and allow him to make his home with you. Trust me, he’ll help you with whatever housecleaning needs to be done.

Erin Jacobsma

 


Never Be Shaken

You, oh Lord, keep my lamp burning. You have turned my darkness to light. Set my feet high on this mountain and put my enemies to flight. So I…I will praise you as long as I live. Oh I…I will praise you again and again. And when I walk through the valley I will not fear for you are my strength and my shield. When everything around me is overtaken I know I’ll never be shaken. Whoa! I’ll never be shaken! Whoa! I’ll never by shaken. Whoa! I’ll never be shaken.

These are the lyrics of a favorite song we sing at Pioneer Club called, Never Be Shaken. The minute the kids hear the first note, you can count on cheers and much enthusiasm as we sing. I can be having a rotten day, but in those three minutes of singing along and praising God, my heart turns from sorrow to joy – each and every time.

So many things in this world today want to hurt and shake us to the core. Simply watching five minutes of the evening news can leave one feeling flustered and helpless. People beg for peace as they tear their neighbor down. Our children seem to have been left in a world without rules and very little integrity. Many have little faith in our government and feel as though our leaders cannot be trusted with the simplest of tasks. There are days I catch myself uttering a familiar phrase of David, “How long, Lord?”

For many, there is little hope left in this world. Each day seems like a new battle, and each night darker than the one before. Deep hurt and tragedy allow people to question God’s mere existence. Hatred is hurled at others because of a different skin color or occupation, leaving people to wonder why a God of love would allow these things to happen. People are left shaken to the core, searching for a peace they may never find.

The same is not true for those of us who follow the God of Creation. Even in the chaos, we know God is in control as we wait patiently for Him to move. When our eyes are opened to the love of our Heavenly Father, we find a calm in the middle of the storms of life. The darkness may be all around us, but our lamp shines on the path before us and He protects us on the journey. We have an unshaken peace that passes all understanding; a gift given by God himself to those who put their trust in Him.

David writes in Psalm 62, 1Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. 2Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

3How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down—this leaning wall, this tottering fence? 4Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.

5Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 6Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. 7My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. 8Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

As this world continues to spin in chaos, may it not be so of us that we lost hope in the God of the universe as we await His return. Instead, may we praise God in both the good and challenging times of life, knowing His strength is always with us. For when we are resting within God’s fortress, nothing can shake us!

Placing all hope in God,

Becky Ossefoort

 


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

 


Can You Be Identified?

Years ago at a SR RCYF Parents Night, the students were instructed to roll up the legs of their jeans and remove their socks and shoes. They were then lined up behind a large sheet of plastic hanging from the ceiling. The parents were then asked to identify which child was theirs by the feet sticking out from under the plastic.

Some parents were concerned that they would not be able to recognize their teenager’s feet, while others were quite confident. I was in the confident category. I had dressed those feet many times as an infant and toddler and our oldest daughter has two very distinct crooked toes, so I was positive I would have no problem identifying her feet. I chose correctly and the other parents also completed the task rather quickly and claimed the feet of each child. Who knew how recognizable our feet are?

While feet seem to be a pretty obscure part of our body, the Bible mentions feet quite often.

There are verses that give warning to our feet:

Proverbs 4:26-27 “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”

There are verses that reference a sure foundation:

Psalm 17:5 “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.”

Psalm 40:2 “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Other verses paint a picture of spreading the gospel:

Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God Reigns.’”

Ephesians 6:14-15 “Stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

And one of the greatest lessons in all of scripture comes from the washing of feet. John records the event this way: “Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’” John 13:4-5, 14-15

Others may not know us by our feet like our parents do, but the Bible does tell us that there is a distinct characteristic that will identify his disciples. John 13:34-35 records Jesus’ words. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As I think about this passage, it makes me cringe. Does the world know us by our love? As Jesus’ followers, do we love well? There are some who claim Christ who are known for their complaining attitude, negative talk, and bickering. Some are known for their gossip, their criticism, their laziness, or their anger. For some, we brush it aside and say “well, that’s just __(name)__.” But that’s not in line with Jesus’ command.

May we, who are of the Jesus kind, be known as followers of Christ by the way we walk, by the way we talk, and by the way we love.

Erin Jacobsma

 


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

 


Living Water

It’s been a long night. Or a short one. Depends how you look at it. I caught a few winks in the recliner, but most of the night was spent on the floor of the kitchen with a sick lamb. She was clinging to life and I so desperately wanted her to live. I lost a newborn lamb a few days ago and I didn’t want a repeat.

We had just picked her up from the big farm earlier in the evening. She baaed all the way home and seemed fine when I put her in her new shelter with her two roommates, Pippi and Pirate. We gave her the name Pansy and supplied her with a few ounces to drink and left the three youngsters to get acquainted.

When I returned for their bedtime feeding, things had changed drastically and I could see our newest addition was in distress. I am definitely no sheep expert, but I decided maybe she was cold and I took her to the house to warm her. She wasn’t able to stand and could hardly let out a sound, but I wrapped her in a warm towel and snuggled her on my lap in front of the furnace vent and started googling what to do with a sick lamb.

Google is a wonderful thing when you are looking for answers, but it can also be very disheartening when you are pretty sure what needs to be done, but you don’t have the right tools. Google suggested, and the thermometer verified, that the lamb was hypothermic. She needed to get warmed up, which I was working on, and she needed milk in her belly. The problem was she wouldn’t drink from the bottle. Tube feeding was an option, but I didn’t have the necessary equipment and I wasn’t about to call around trying to find one in the wee hours of the morning.

I attempted repeatedly to get her to take the bottle or to at least swallow the milk that I could get into her mouth, but with little success. I tried to reason with her that if she didn’t drink she was going to die, but she didn’t seem to understand. As I knelt on the floor watching her struggle to survive, the tears began to flow. Not for the lamb (well, maybe a little), but mostly for the people in my life that the lamb represents, people to whom I have offered Living Water but refuse to swallow, people who ignore warning signs, people who brush off any attempts to help them, people who reject the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. My heart ached from the feeling of helplessness as I drifted off to sleep.

And while I cannot make someone drink the Living Water anymore than I can make a baby lamb slurp up a bottle of warm milk, I CAN pray for them.

Heavenly Father, You are the Good Shepherd. You are everything that I want, and I want so badly for others to want you too. By your grace and mercy, pour out your Spirit that all people would repent of their sins and be drawn to you. Replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh and help them be receptive to your voice. I pray that they will know the truth and the truth will set them free. Raise them from the dead because of your great love. Amen, let it be done.

Erin Jacobsma

In case you are wondering, Pansy made it through the night until I was able to get a tube to feed her with and she is doing much better.