Jesus is Our All!

A friend and I were reflecting on our faith journey a while back while we were enjoying each other’s company on the patio. Our faith stories started very different; mine being part of a church family all my life, hers not till she was much farther along in life. The journey to knowing Christ for my friend has a sharp contrast from her old life. Not as much for me because I do not recall ever not knowing Jesus. I grew up attending church faithfully with my family. My great-grandma, both sets of grandparents, and even aunts and uncles attended church with me each week. After weekly Sunday School and Catechism classes my cousins and I would walk to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for lunch. The Bible was read in our home and we were taught right from wrong according to God’s Word. Even as a little tot I knew Jesus loved me, had paid a price for my life, and if I loved Him I would spend eternity in Heaven with Him one day.

As we continued our chat, I stated in some ways I wish my story was a little more like hers. Had that been the case, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the gift my parents had shared with me for granted for so long. My friend was less than impressed with my statement and told me I was crazy. She was maybe right.

Something happened this week at Pioneer Club that reminded me of this chat we had on the patio some time ago. We have a student who was eager to get their Bible at Awards Night on Wednesday night. The student is very excited to be learning about Jesus and asks lots of questions about what is being taught. Prior to the awards, the child asked if they would be getting a Pioneer Club bag in addition to the Bible. The teacher replied that she wasn’t sure so they would just have to wait and see. When I read the child’s name off, the enthusiasm was apparent as they approached the stage. I saw a face glow with great delight as I handed the new Bible and crisp, black Pioneer Club bag to them. The excitement continued as the club leader presented the badges and applause from the crowd was heard. (You should each be very jealous of my job!)

After all the excitement settled down and the last guests had left, I was chatting with the leader of this student. She is so excited by the eagerness she sees in this child who just wants to drink in the goodness of Christ. In our conversation she shared that when they all returned to their seats, the child came up to her and said, “I got it ALL!” What a profound statement! The child is right, because when you know Christ and He lives and dwells in your heart, you really do have it ALL!

Sing to the LORD; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods. Psalm 96:2-4 (NLT)

Friends, we have the absolute best gift ever given and all we are truly asked to do is share it with others. May it not be so of any of us that we didn’t share the great Gospel story with all we encountered in this life – both young and old. You just never know who hasn’t heard the Good News yet.

What a gift to be able to share the love and joy of Christ with others!

Becky Ossefoort

 


So Blessed

This past Sunday, our Sunday school class spent our time reflecting on the story in Matthew 16 of when Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say the Son of Man is?” If you are familiar with the story then you remember that Simon Peter answered this most important question by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Jesus could have said to Peter, “Nice job Peter, you got the answer right,” but instead Jesus alerted Peter    to the fact that he was “blessed” to have received the gift of revelation from the Father about the nature of his  Son, Jesus.

This past week I’ve been meditating on how “blessed” I also am in having received that revelation from Father about the nature and person of Jesus Christ as well as the gift of faith to believe that revelation.

Then, on Wednesday night I met a member of our congregation in the hallway by my office and I asked how she was doing. She said she was “blessed” and proceeded to share with me several ways she was blessed. Again, I believe it is a wonderful gift when Father makes us aware of how blessed we are.

On another occasion, Jesus revealed more truth to those who gathered to hear his teaching about how a person would know if they’re blessed. And just in case you’re not sure if you’re blessed, I’ve included Jesus’ examples from Matthew 5 to help you. (And please, take your time; revelation rarely occurs when you’re in a hurry).

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

So how about it, did Jesus’ list help you discover at least one way you are blessed? Any fresh revelations? For me today, verse 5. May it be so with you and me that we would be growing in our understanding of all the ways we are blessed!

And now, may the Lord bless you and keep you…,

Mike Altena

 

 


Hide It Under a Bushel – NO!

I was recently visiting with a member of our congregation and he shared with me that it seemed like the picture on his television was getting darker so he invited his grandson to come over to his home to check out his television to see if there was any way he could make the picture brighter. In addition he mentioned how he had gradually lost his ability to read the newspaper. Well, a few weeks ago he had cataract surgery in which they removed the cloudy lens of his eye and replaced it with an artificial one that was clear. He said, “Within a day I could read the newspaper without glasses again and the television was also remarkably clear.”

As I was reflecting on his story, Jesus’ words from Luke 11:34 immediately came to mind.

34 “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.”

Here Jesus describes how our perception affects our soul. When Jesus refers to healthy eyes, he meant eyes that not only see well, but also that perceive well. So it’s not only what we see, but how we perceive that impacts our ability to live as the light of the world. Bad eyes lead to bad perception, but if our spiritual eyes are good, our body, soul and spirit will be illuminated. Just like, if we are in a well lit room, we see things clearly and therefore are able to easily navigate around the obstacles in the room. On the other hand walking in a dark room will often result in walking into tables and chairs and doorways.

Everyday our eyes filter thousands of images that are good or evil, beneficial or harmful, and our perception of them, the meaning we give to them, or the story we tell ourselves about them inform our world view. If we perceive goodness, goodness will radiate outward from within our hearts and minds. However, if we allow our eyes to linger on evil, eventually darkness will begin to emanate from within and can corrupt us and those around us.

In preparing for our message on putting on the belt of truth, I am reminded of II Corinthians 11:14 where Paul alerts us to the fact that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. The number one scheme of the devil to destroy you and me is to cloud our vision—to make us think we found the light when it’s actually the darkness of a false light. His intention is to slowly blind us to the truth and therefore corrupt our minds and eventually our behavior.

Using his army of demons and those who follow him, the father of lies continually parades a never ending stream of evil for us to gaze upon. In addition to all the images that feed the lust of our eyes and the lusts of our flesh, Satan would also try to deceive us into thinking that he is actually winning the battle between light and dark and that God is helplessly trying to figure out how to stop him.

Satan would love nothing more for us than to focus on the darkness of a health issue that doesn’t appear to be improving, on strained relationships, on the rising cost of providing for your family, on the current challenge of the harvest including yields and commodity prices, on the political turmoil in America, on the inability of the church to be the light of the world…and the list goes on and on.

But not so with you and me. Let’s pause and invite Jesus to perform his spiritual cataract surgery on you and me. Jesus is the light of the world. In this world we will have trouble, but the Truth is, he has overcome all that we perceive as darkness.  35 “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”     Hide it under a bushel, NO!! Mike Altena

 


The Sound of the Shepherd

We are surrounded by sounds. Take a moment and listen. What do you hear? As I type this article, I hear the buzz of my computer, the clicking of the keys on my keyboard, the hum of traffic outside my window, wind blowing through the trees, and muffled voices in the next office.

Some sounds are strange and puzzling and we don’t know where they are coming from. We strain our ears to see if we can figure out the source of the noise, or we go to investigate and determine if what we hear is cause for alarm or no big deal. Other sounds are very familiar. We know exactly who is talking in the adjacent room, we recognize the creak of the floor or the squeak of the door, we know the ringtone of our cell phone, and the way our car sounds as we drive down the road.

Some new sounds have been heard at our farm over the past several weeks. A ewe, affectionately known as Big Mama, and her triplets – Fluffy, Petunia, and Tiny – have taken up residence at our humble homestead. Their presence has been accompanied by a chorus of bleating sounds. Hearing Big Mama’s deep “BAA” as she calls to her babies and the babies responding with their soft soprano “baa” is just precious. I love listening to them.

I have grown familiar with their cries. I can tell when they are relaxed and having a friendly conversation, and also when Big Mama senses danger and is shouting a warning to her babes. I am tuned to the baas of the babies telling me that they are hungry and happy to see a bottle in my hand, and also when they are freaking out because they can’t get to their mama.

The sheep have also become accustomed with sounds in their new environment. They tolerate the whimpering and barking sounds of the dog (as long as he doesn’t come too close), they mostly ignore the traffic sounds on the highway, and they barely lift their heads from munching the lush grass when an airplane takes off from the nearby runway.

And they know my voice. I talk to them when I’m opening the barn door so as not to startle them, and speak softly to the lambs as they suck down their bottles. I reassure Big Mama when entering her pen and she has come to realize that I am not a threat to her or her babies. She has even gotten comfortable enough to eat grain from my hand.

There are many passages in the Bible that talk about sheep. In some ways, I’m not excited about being compared to an animal, but John chapter 10 has taken on new meaning since I started caring for these little critters. Multiple times, Jesus talks about being the good shepherd and that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. But this doesn’t happen overnight. Knowing someone comes from spending time with them. Trust is built and intimacy is developed. When the sheep came to our farm, they didn’t want anything to do with me. Big Mamma would stomp her feet at me and snort, and the babies would run in every direction. But after time and proving myself to them, they have come to trust me and follow me.

Likewise with Jesus. I am comforted by the fact that he knows me, and I have spent enough time with him to be at ease in his presence and know I can trust him. I know his voice and follow him. Not perfectly, but in an ever growing intimacy. He has proven himself faithful and good all my life and I can’t imagine navigating this world without him. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Psalm 23:1

Erin Jacobsma

 


Mistaken Identity

I recently ran across an interesting article that went like this:

‘Missing’ Woman Mystery Solved

A group of tourists spent hours Saturday night looking for a missing woman near Iceland’s Eldgja canyon, only to find her among the search party.

The group was traveling through Iceland on a tour bus and stopped near a volcanic canyon. Soon, there was word of a missing passenger. The woman, who had changed clothes, didn’t recognize the description of herself, and joined in the search.

But the search was called off at about 3 a.m., when it became clear the missing woman was, in fact, accounted for and searching for herself. –QMI Agency

I actually read the story twice because it seemed so absurd. How in the world would someone not know it was them everyone was looking for after just a few minutes? I thought about bus trips I’ve taken with students and how we count every time we board the bus – who was in charge of counting for crying out loud?

As I sat and pondered the scene I imagined the tension, fear, and chaos that was likely present as everyone searched. It would be my assumption being part of a search party on your vacation would be a bit of a downer as well. I continued to think about the events taking place in this short article when I suddenly saw myself in the story. After all, my life before being born again wasn’t much different than what unfolded above. I was searching, but had no idea of the real identity of who I needed to find.

For many years I was enticed by the glitz and glamor of this world. I could have renamed the familiar country lyrics to “Looking for peace in all the wrong places.” I searched for happiness, but never found true joy. I pursued who I wanted to be, rather than seeking who I was created to be. When something didn’t quench the desire for pleasure, I switched paths and looked to the next thing to find delight in. Yet, each trail led to the same dead end of emptiness and disappointment.

Thankfully I found my true peace and joy when I completely surrendered everything to Jesus. After my life changed, the material items I had once sought after didn’t seem as important and the life I had set out to make suddenly wasn’t even attractive anymore. While some from my past may feel I live with less, the truth is I have so much more than I ever imagined possible. No, not material things, but simply knowing my every need will be provided for always, peace in my heart no matter what life throws my way, and pure joy in knowing that I serve the Savior of the entire world and He calls me His child! When words or ill actions are tossed at me by others, I feel a barrier of protection surrounding me. And perhaps best of all, when I’m lonely, sad, or full of excitement, I have a friend who I can talk with at all times.

You see the story above is about all of us at one point in our life. We wander around this earth trying to find contentment, but we fail to see we won’t find it without knowing the real identity of our Heavenly Father. Sadly, this story is still true for those who are not in Christ. For many, life is a constant act of seeking, but never finding. The work is exhausting and often times life circumstances continues to erode around them only to lead to more disappointment. There are many who are still searching and it’s up to us, God’s Search Party, to help point them to Him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Becky Ossefoort

 


Receive Mercy, Give Mercy

On Saturday, September 14, ESPN’S “College Game Day” was broadcasted from Ames, Iowa prior to the football matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones. During the broadcast, Carson King held up a homemade sign that could be seen in the background which read, “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished” followed by his Venmo user name. (Venmo is a means of sending money through social media).

Kings’s phone immediately started ringing with notifications from Venmo. Within 30 minutes, the 24 year old had received donations of over $400. King was quite surprised he would receive any donations since it was intended as a joke.

After speaking with his family about it, he decided that, minus the cost of a case of Busch Light, he’d give the rest of the money to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. As word spread of his plans to donate the money, more and more people decided to contribute. Eventually, Venmo and Busch Beer offered matching funds and by Sunday morning, the contributions—including Venmo and Busch matches—had raised 1.14 million dollars and more money was still coming in.

In addition to the matching funds, Busch Beer sweetened the deal by offering King, now dubbed the “Iowa Legend” a year’s supply of Busch Light and they were going to put his picture and name on the cans of Busch Light.

King was ecstatic about reaching the one million dollar mark and now has set a goal of raising two million dollars for the Children’s Hospital by the end of the month. Kind of a cool story, right?

Well after hearing about the unfolding story, the Des Moines Register decided to send a reporter to interview King. However before doing so, the reporter dug into King’s past social media posts and discovered that when he was 16 years old, King apparently sent a racial tweet. Deciding the seven year old media post was pertinent information to the outcome of the story, the Des Moines Registered published the Tweet. Busch Beer soon heard about the young man’s foolish mistake, and although they are still going to honor their donation to the children’s Hospital, they announced they are cutting any ties with King.

Hearing that the Des Moines Register had discovered his foolish social media post of seven years ago, Carson King immediately apologized to the public for his comments. Venmo announced they have forgiven King, acknowledging we all say and do stupid things when we are young. Now there is an outcry against the Des Moines Register for ruining the story by publishing needless information.

When I reflect on the story several thoughts come to mind. Doing something as a joke can have surprising outcomes that can change your life in a hurry; be careful when doing something as a joke. Be careful what you post on social media, you never know how it might be used against you. In my opinion, for the Register to publicize King’s social media post from when he was in high school was senseless. Like the Apostle Paul, I am grateful that God doesn’t hold my past against me, but rather can use it for his glory.

Maybe the Des Moines Register could also learn a thing or two about mercy from Paul’s testimony in I Timothy 1:15-16.  “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

There is no doubt that sometimes we will pay the price for our past sin, however I praise God that he keeps no record of my wrongs and that his love covers a multitude of sins. And may it be so with you and me that we would be quick to drop our rocks.

Grace to you and peace, Mike Altena

 


In It To Win It

I recently stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up a few items, and after I returned to my car, I noticed two young girls, maybe third and fifth graders, approaching the car parked next to me. Walking about fifty feet in front of their mom, who had a cart full of packages, I could tell they were very excited because they were carrying a new board game. You remember how it was when you were a kid and you got a new game or toy and you couldn’t wait to get home to play it.

Well, as they were getting into the car I noticed the game they bought was the “Game of Life.” As I began to reflect on their sense of excitement about their new game, I could only imagine how happy they were hoping this game would make them feel. Then another thought entered my mind, I wondered how many times they would play their game before it became just another game among the stack of games they already have—would they be able to make it to Christmas before they asked for another new game.

As I continued to reflect on the experience, I realized how often I have been like those girls in my life. I can remember the excitement of driving my first car home. I was so happy…but it wasn’t long before I began thinking about another car. I can remember my first job, I was so excited and happy…but it wasn’t long before I began thinking about what it would be like to work for someone else. And then I can remember my first girl friend, I was so excited, she seemed so special, but then it wasn’t long… before she began thinking about what it would be like to date someone else (yes, she dumped me).

Life seems to be full of those experiences, doesn’t it?  You buy something, or you find that perfect job, you hope will make you happy. You fall in love with that perfect person and you can’t wait to get married because you know he/she will make you so happy. Or you take your little cuddly bundle of joy home, only to discover he/she won’t sleep and they keep needing to be fed and diapered—and you wish at the end of the day you could just put them in the toy box with all the other toys. Yes, how often the things we hope will bring happiness, leave us feeling empty.

This all led me to begin thinking about “my new life in Christ,” was it still everything I had hoped for. Am I experiencing the joy and peace and happiness that God intended? Have I become bored with my life, or am I feeling the excitement of being part of the bigger story that God is writing? As God’s story unfolds in my life, could I truly have been put on earth for such a time as this?  And if I didn’t choose to become a follower of Jesus, but he was the one who chose me to bear fruit, am I bearing fruit that lasts?

May it be said of us that we are a people of God who are truly passionate and joyful about the gift of life. And having been called “to be a blessing in this world” (Genesis 12:1-4), may we never become weary of participating in God’s mission.

In it to win it,

Mike Altena

 

 

 


Taking A Walk

I am no dog trainer. I’m not sure I’m even a dog lover. Actually, I’m more of a cat person. But for the past month, I have been caring for my furry grand-dog while my son was out of town. We have worked on his manners and not jumping on people when they come to visit, we have played numerous games of catch, we have developed some patience and restraint at feeding time, we have practiced “sit” and “shake” and “down” on many occasions, and we have enjoyed long walks together in the beautiful countryside.

Well, not exactly. We have done all of those things, but the long walks are not always the most enjoyable. I like the idea of starting my day with a brisk morning walk with the pooch by my side, or to savor the cool evening air together with a stroll down the gravel road, but in reality, the dog is the one going for a walk and I’m getting pulled along behind.

I have tried to be patient and consistent with my commands and expectations. I have combed through Pinterest for tips and tricks. I have employed the assistance of a choke chain, a pronged collar, and a shock collar; all with minimal success. The shock collar actually glitched on our walk last week which resulted in a yelping and very submissive dog… for about ten seconds. Then, the pulling resumed.

Our walks are a continuous cycle of me saying “walk”, giving a jerk on the leash, and tapping the button on the shock collar. The dog slows his pace for a few yards until he’s at the end of his leash and pulling me down the road again and the cycle repeats. At least the longer we walk the more compliant the hound becomes and by the time we turn around and head for home he is maintaining a mostly steady pace, but each walk begins with the same struggle.

“I would think by now that you would have figured this out.” Those are the words I spoke to the dog this morning, and the exact same words that the Holy Spirit echoed in my mind. Immediately, it felt like a choke chain around my neck and I wanted to yelp my protest. But in all honesty, I’m a lot like this dog.

I get excited about walking with the Lord and being with my Master, but I’m often not satisfied with his pace. I am sometimes oblivious to everything that God has planned for our walk together. Like the canine in my care, I want to put my nose to the ground and take off running. I want to be productive and get things done. I want to pull away and do things my way. But God says “walk”.

It’s a recurring theme in the Bible. Walking with the Lord seems to coincide with a close relationship with him. We are given examples like Enoch and Noah who “walked faithfully with God” and David who was said to have walked before God in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart. The Bible doesn’t tell us to run around in circles, to strive, or hustle, or pull. God uses words like come… follow… rest… sit… stay… walk. Some of us are slower learners than others. The Israelites wandered in circles in the wilderness for 40 years before God considered them ready to walk in a different direction. I can relate. Sometimes I need to get worn down before I start paying attention. Sometimes I need a spiritual shock collar.

The cool thing is, that God promises to walk with us. The Master of the Universe walking with a rebellious walking partner like me. Wow. May we heed the words of Joshua, “Be very careful to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5)

Who wants to go for a walk?

Erin Jacobsma

 


A Day Off

This past Wednesday Vicki and I had the opportunity to go to a Twins baseball game with our son Jonathon and his wife, Chelsey. It was an absolutely beautiful day for a baseball game. Having once dreamed of playing in the majors, I quickly found myself wondering what it would be like to be talented enough to be paid anywhere from $550,000 to $13,000,000 a year to play the game of baseball.  (And even though in our game, only three players got on base).

For those of you who have never attended a game, going to a MLB baseball game is a unique entertainment experience.  Before the game begins, some special person is given the privilege of throwing out the “first pitch.” In our case it was a young high school girl from some town in Minnesota who has set all kinds of pitching records in girls fast pitch softball. It must have been a pressure packed moment for her since her pitch didn’t even get close to the catcher.

A little bit later some lucky young boy gets to bring the first baseball out and set it on the pitcher’s mound. Then after that special moment a veteran from the Iraq War was honored followed by some 70 year old guy who loved to sing in his church’s choir who always dreamed of singing the National Anthem at a Twin’s game. Then finally, another very special little boy, maybe three to four years old get’s the spot light and he squeaks out “wet’s pway baseball!”

Like I mentioned earlier, in this game the Twins couldn’t seem to get a hit so the game seemed fairly boring. I guess maybe that was ok, since I was actually only able to see about half of the game. Yes,  Jonathon found us some great tickets on the lower level about half way between first base and right field and I was lucky enough to have an aisle seat. But the only reason you would want an aisle seat is if you had to go to the bathroom every inning. The bad thing about an aisle seat was that there was a never ending stream of fans walking up and down the steps who either had to go to the bathroom or to get more hotdogs or pretzels or gyros or french fries and sodas.

Then in addition to those people interrupting my view, you have the vendors who are playfully trying to get you to buy their tasty ice cold $10 bottles of Bud light and $5.50 bags of Fischer’s peanuts or $5.00 boxes of popcorn or cotton candy or ice cream treats or raffle tickets. And then just when the view clears and you think you’re going to have a chance to watch the game, a tap on your right shoulder means it’s time to stand up so someone from your aisle can exit or return.  Now please don’t think I didn’t enjoy my experience at the ball park; we had a great time!

And yet the following morning after reading Acts chapter 9, I found myself reflecting on the nature of my entertainment experience. Here I was, sitting and watching a bunch of grown men play a game of baseball with 30,000 fans gorging themselves on food and drink, meanwhile the Apostle Paul was trying to figure out a way to escape those who were trying to kill him because of his bold preaching. Like, how am I supposed to process that?

Who knows, maybe Luke just never told the story of when Paul took the day off to go to a baseball game. 🙂

Grace to you and peace,

Mike Altena

 


Seriously, But Not Literally

Several days ago I received an email from a random web designer in Michigan who was offering his services to help our ministry with our website if needed. In order to display some of his work he submitted three examples of some websites he had designed.

Curious to check out the quality and creativity of his work, I clicked on one of the three links and I found this information on one of the church’s home page. “The UCC tends to be a mostly progressive denomination that unabashedly engages heart and mind; we are non-doctrinal and respectful of other faith traditions. We take the Bible seriously but not literally.” My initial response was WHAT!!!?? What a wretched declaration!

Well, in order to gain clarity about who this congregation/denomination was claiming to be, I had to get out my dictionary:

Progressive = (of a group, person, or idea) favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

Unabashedly= without embarrassment or shame.

Non-doctrinal= not concerned with the belief or set of beliefs held and taught by the Church

Seriously= with earnest intent; not lightly or superficially.

Not literally= not in a literal manner or sense; not exactly.

As I reflect on their declaration, what I see is adherence to the deception of relative truth. For them, truth is a set of beliefs determined by who has the most power or who has the most votes.

So I wonder, how does a person take something seriously, but not literally. Like, that sounds like my approach to my wedding vow to cherish Vicki when we first got married; I took it seriously, but not literally. (I actually cherished myself way more than I cherished her).

And then I wondered, how do I say to Jesus in my prayer time, “You know that stuff you said in Luke 14 about giving up everything in order to become one of your disciples, well I take that very seriously, but of course not literally.”

With an approach to the Bible like that, then one could also say, “Jesus did say that wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, but he didn’t really mean that small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it—silly Jesus.”

The more I thought about the statement, the more my heart was filled with sadness. And yet the more I thought about the statement, the Holy Spirit convicted me that my heart was also becoming more and more filled with self-righteousness. See because, I would never dare say that “I take the Bible seriously, but not literally,” but a daily review of my life would show there are many occasions when I don’t take the word of God seriously or literally.

Even though the Bible says I am not to engage in idolatry, I find that I have many idols. Even though the Bible tells me not to lie, out of fear I often find myself lying. Even though Jesus said, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full,” I fill my daily planner with so many other activities that I have no time left for seeking the wandering sojourner. What a wretched man I am!

Father, I pray that you open the eyes of the heart of the UCC that they would see that it’s not progressive ideology and relative truth that sets a person free, but that freedom is found in Christ alone, through grace, by faith alone, to the glory of God alone. And may it not be so with me that I would ever think it’s acceptable to take your Word seriously, but not literally. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Reformed and always being reformed,

Mike Altena