Use What You Have

Have you ever looked for something, not knowing exactly what that something was? A sensation of tugging and pulling in an uncertain direction, but you cannot put your finger on it. It begs for your attention and about the time you throw your hands up in defeat you discover it right under your very own nose.

I wonder if this is how the widow we read about in 2 Kings felt. We meet her as she is scrambling to figure out the situation she had been left with. She was frantically searching, knowing she had to do something, but could not put her finger on what she was looking for. Her husband had died and suddenly she was thrown into a desperate need for funds to repay a debt the man had left behind. It seems unbelievable to think her only option may be to give her own children as payment. Not willing to give up easily, she cries out to Elisha asking if he can point her in a more reasonable direction of securing the necessary means of paying the debt. I am sure she was ready to throw her hands in the air the moment he asked the question, “What do you have in your house?” (2 Kings 4:2) She had nothing. There was n-o-t-h-i-n-g. The house was empty, it was simply her and her children…except that one little, tiny jar of oil, but what good would that be?

As the short seven verses continue, the woman and her sons gathered all the jars in the neighborhood as instructed by Elisha, closed the door behind them, and with great hope began to pour. The oil flowed until the last collected jar was filled to the brim. As the last drop dripped from the small jar, Elisha instructed them to sell all the oil and pay off the debt. This miracle not only paid the debt and let the children remain with their mother, but it also provided an abundance of funds for the family to live on. God knew what the cry of her heart would be, provided, and blessed her with more than she had even asked for.

I read a quote of Priscilla Shirer the other day that said, “Sometimes we wait impatiently on God when He is patiently waiting on us, waiting for us to recognize what He’s already given as part of the answer to our problem.” How quickly we are consumed with the evidence of what is not there, rather than working with the gifts and blessings He has already placed before us. Like the widow, I too am quick to search for solutions to my problems without giving a second glance at the things right under my nose. I impatiently go ahead of God and seek out my own answers and band-aids to my problems. Yet God is patiently waiting for me to recognize the things He has already gone ahead to put in place for me, even before I knew I needed them.

What is in your house? What pot of oil have you neglected to notice? Maybe the answer you have been praying for is already in plain sight. That little, humble something on the back shelf of your mind may be the beginning of the most amazing move of God you have ever witnessed.

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Becky Ossefoort

 


Spiritual Famine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basking in the Father’s love,

Mike Altena

 


There’s No Place Like Home

There’s no place like home.

There’s no place like home.

There’s no place like home.

Some of you are wondering why I just repeated the same sentence. Others of you are imagining yourself standing in the Land of Oz, wearing ruby red slippers, clicking your heels together three times.

“There’s no place like home” became iconic following the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. The film tells the tale of Dorothy Gale who lives on a farm in Kansas with her dog Toto, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Dorothy seeks shelter in her bedroom from an approaching tornado, but the window gets blown in, hits her in the head, and knocks her unconscious. The house is sent spinning into the air and lands in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz.

Chances are you know the rest of the story as Dorothy follows the yellow brick road to Emerald City making friends with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion along the journey to find her way home. In the end, all Dorothy needed to do was close her eyes, click the heels of her ruby red slippers together three times and say, “There’s no place like home.”

But what if “home” isn’t a single place? I pondered that question after a conversation with Michelle Klay as she and her family were packing and preparing to leave their home in Florida and return to their home in Africa. What if you have multiple places that you call home, and your heart is torn between the two? I imagine when you are in America a portion of your heart longs to be in Africa and when you are standing on African soil, a part of you wishes you were in America. If you are at home in two different places, two cultures, two continents, do you ever feel at home? There’s no place like home, but where is home?

I got my answer the very next day as I took in the words of Psalm 90. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” I don’t know how you would describe a “dwelling place”, but I would call it HOME.

This particular Psalm is a prayer written by Moses. I would guess Moses struggled with his home identity. He was born in a Hebrew village, raised in an Egyptian palace, fled to the land of Midian and started a family there, only to return to Egypt, and then eventually wander in a desert for 40 years. Where was home? The land of Canaan was supposed to be his destination, a place where he could finally put down some roots and unpack his bags, but he never even crossed the threshold.

However, God graciously revealed to Moses along the way that his focus wasn’t supposed to be on a place, but on Him. God’s presence was the only place Moses needed to reside. And Moses could honestly say, Lord, you have been our dwelling place, our refuge, our safe house, our hideout, our sanctuary, our HOME.

The same can be true for us. It would be my prayer for those who say they are followers of Christ, that you could claim the words of Psalm 84:1-2. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

In the words of an old song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.”

Erin Jacobsma

(By the way, Caleb & Michelle and boys arrived safely at their home in Africa. Yay, God!)

 


All The Noise!

BOY: /boi/ n. a noise with dirt on it. These words were neatly printed on a small canvas that once hung on the wall of our boys’ shared bedroom. While one of the boys has always been neat and tidy, the other will undoubtedly have dirt or mud somewhere even after a shower. What they don’t share in cleanliness, they make up for in the production of noise. A sound I will always treasure is the one produced when they would pinch their tiny lips together and make the rumble of a tractor while they pushed their tiny toys across my floor.

As they have grown, not much has changed other than the toys have progressively gotten bigger. We went from little tractors to larger Tonka trucks in the sandbox, then they graduated to a tractor they could peddle and haul lots of dirt with. Other than the varying tempos and pitches, the sound remained the same. A few years ago an old, salvaged lawnmower was brought into the shop for some modifications. Filthy little fingers came to the dining room table that afternoon but there was an absence of noise to accompany the dirt. Seemed puzzling, but very peaceful at the time. After lunch, a new racket was heard – that of a 1 ½” pipe out the hood of the previously mentioned lawnmower. You could hear that silly thing crack across the section and it had me yearning for the quieter sounds they once produced while playing in their room.

Fast forward to the present and I am still dealing with dirt and noise. We’ve taken out stock in GoJo soap, given up on blue jean stains, and learned to tune out many familiar sounds; no matter how loud they have become. That was until recently when something new beckoned for my attention. The recently licensed teenage boy has installed some “snappy” glass packs on his pickup. Since the installation there has been a lot of chatter about how cool the pickup sounds, a plethora of sarcastic Snapchats sent to mom, and lots of little spin outs in the gravel. I was granted permission to drive the noise machine to work the other day since big sister had my car. Admittedly, the noise even brought me a little smile to my face while running my errands. No, not because of the clamor it makes as I push the gas pedal, but because of the joy it brings  my silly kid.

The world is full of noise begging for our attention. The ringing of political unrest, brother hurting brother, and social injustices pierce us at the core and can often leave us completely focused on the noise coming from them. But we as Christ followers have a choice; we can continue to listen to the ear-piercing turmoil or focus on the gentle, easy listening harmony our Father in heaven has for us. I don’t know about you, but I have had to do a little extra tuning in to some of my favorite scriptures lately. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Ps. 4:8) “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Ps. 37:7) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

May you find joy each day as you tune your soul to the gentle sound of your Savior in the midst of this dark, messy, and noisy world.

Becky Ossefoort

 


We Reap What We Sow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace to you and peace, Mike Altena

 


Black Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year! Mike Altena

 


How Would You Tell The Story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


The One Who Lifts My Head

They say that reading is a key to opening your imagination, but have you ever come across a phrase or sentence that immediately generated a picture or video in your mind? This happened to me a few days ago.

A friend extended a challenge to me to read five Psalms and one chapter from the book of Proverbs every day for one month and to repeat that challenge every month for an entire year. I have always enjoyed reading the Psalms and I like having a plan to stick to, so I accepted his challenge and decided to begin December 1st rather than wait for the New Year.

An additional aspect to the challenge was to “pray” the Psalms, using some of these ancient words to communicate with Father. I flipped open my Bible and started with Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord.”

O Lord, I want to delight in your laws. Keep me from wicked counsel and sinful ways.

I moved on to Psalm 2. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One… The One enthroned in heaven laughs.”

O Lord, I can hear your scoffing roar. What a laughingstock we must be in the heavens. What a joke that people would dare take a stand against you. I want to laugh too… or maybe cry.

I continued my reading journey to Psalm 3. “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you are a shield around me, O Lord, my Glorious One, the One who lifts my head.”

Click… instant picture.

“The One who lifts my head”… I see a young child standing in front of his parent. The youngster has his hands shoved deep into his pockets, he chews on his bottom lip, the toe of his shoe digs at a pebble in the dirt, and his eyes are fixed on the ground beneath him. It is obvious that the child has done something he shouldn’t have. The nature of the offense is unclear, but he is most definitely avoiding eye contact with his father. Maybe he’s embarrassed, feeling guilty, or afraid of the look in his father’s eyes. He can’t face the disappointment, the anger, the disgust… and I can’t make out the father’s face to see for myself.

But then as gentle as the stroke of a feather, the father reaches down with both hands, cupping the child’s chin, lifting his head to look him in the eye. The child has no choice but to look upon the face of his father, but instead of anger and disappointment, he sees eyes filled with tenderness, compassion, and love. The irritation and displeasure the young one was certain of was nowhere to be seen, and the child melts into a puddle of tears and relief.

O Father, the child is me. At times I am so disappointed in myself that I am certain You must be too. I can’t bring myself to talk to you or to even look you in the eye. But You are the One who lifts my head, not with firmness and punishment like I feel I deserve, but with tenderness and mercy and an everlasting love. Thank you, Father, for showing me who You are.

During this season of Advent, a season of anticipation, may you gaze into the eyes of the One who lifts your head. Do not be afraid, He brings good news of great joy for all people.

Erin Jacobsma

 


Show Me Your Way

Lord, show me your way. These words have been on my heart the last several weeks. Each day seems to meet a new challenge and a decision that needs to be made – ultimately His way or mine. I would be lying if I said my internal GPS always steers me towards the direction and speed God would have me go. I am notorious for wanting to run ahead of God and often feel myself having to pump the breaks a bit and ask myself if this is of Him or my own selfish desire. So, I have been working on the phrase from Psalm 25, “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.”

A friend shard she thinks this year has felt like an Olympic race of constant sprints and hurdles. I was never a track star, but I immediately understood her analogy. Since this spring, we have all probably felt a bit of a shift in our lives and encountered roadblocks and obstacles we have never experienced before. I feel as though my calendar has been a mess all year with last minute cancelations and always having to be flexible with plans. Yet along the path I have also found many beautiful blessings and reminders that God is indeed faithfully walking beside me and continuing to keep His promises. I don’t understand this season or exactly what God is up to in allowing it, but I can honestly say I have found gratitude for this part of my journey and I am so thankful for the things I have learned about both God and myself.

As the Advent season has been approaching, lists of things to do, stuff to create, and deadlines to meet have been piling up and clouding my view of where God is leading me once again. I imagine many people begin to feel a little extra busy during this season as there are always special events to attend and the perfect gift to find for a friend or loved one. As our tasks pile up, we naturally begin to stress and soon we are down a rabbit hole that has nothing to do with the real reason for the season; or at least I do.

A couple weeks ago I was feeling overwhelmed with my pile of things to do. So much so I simply needed a breather and some time to be still before the Lord. I grabbed my Jesus Calling devotional and turned to that day’s reading. It was as though the words were written just for me and my situation and I thought I would share them with you as well:

As you look at the day before you, you see a twisted, complicated path, with branches going off in all directions. You wonder how you can possibly find your way through that maze. Then you remember the One who is with you always, holding you by your right hand. You recall My promise to guide you with My counsel, and you begin to relax. As you look again at the path ahead you notice that a peaceful fog has settled over it, obscuring your view. You can see only a few steps in front of you, so you turn your attention more fully to Me and begin to enjoy My Presence.

The fog is a protection for you, calling you back into the present moment. Although I inhabit all of space and time, you can communicate with Me only here and now. Someday the fog will no longer be necessary, for you will have learned to keep your focus on Me and on the path just ahead of you.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24

As you are preparing your heart for Christmas allow the fog to set in and obscure your view of all the noise around you. Simply hold His hand and allow Him to show you all the beautiful things he has for you in that moment and space.

Be blessed this Advent season! And if you are looking for any gift ideas, Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling book is always a great choice.

Becky Ossefoort

 


Rich or Poor

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving, Mike Altena