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

 


The Cry of My Heart

The day had arrived. The newborn lambs that I began bottle feeding in March had grown big enough to head to market. As the sun came over the horizon, my regular morning chores included some extra play time in the pasture, a few pictures snapped by the hubby, one last combing of their wool, and a few final hugs before the trailer backed up to the door of the barn. As Littlefoot, Andy, and Olive were sorted from the “herd”, panic began to set in. I use the term “herd” quite loosely since the remaining lambs amounted to two younger ewes, Peanut and Annie. The older lambs boarded the trailer reluctantly, but it was the little girls that became hysterical.

Crying and bleating, I was certain that Peanut was going to jump the fence. I released them from their confinement into the pasture, filled their feed troughs with grain, and put out fresh hay to try to calm them. Nothing worked. For the next hour they raced from the pasture into the barn and back out again, running in circles, climbing up the rails of the fence, and all the while crying, crying, crying.

I wanted to cry with them. Not only was I a little sad to see the other lambs leave the farm, but I could relate to the depths of their distress. Their frantic baas were the sound of my soul.

Life has been stressful, challenging, and draining. My heart breaks, my head hurts, my emotions are raw, my soul feels dry. And I find myself bellowing the words of the ancient song writer in Psalm 13.

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

I added my own lyrics…
How long, O Lord? How long?
How long will this virus rage and disunity spread?
How long will our hugs and handshakes be forbidden and our smiles masked?
How long will truth be silenced and lies run rampant?
How long will relationships be broken and hearts remain hard?
How long will you look the other way?
How long will you sit on your almighty thumb and let the enemy steal, kill, and destroy?
How long, O Lord? How long?

BAA. BAA. Baa. Baa. Eventually the lambs calm down, as does the shepherd girl, and the song writer…
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

It’s okay to cry out to the Lord. It’s good to get real with our heavenly Father and bare our soul. But don’t stay in panic mode. There is hope.
Why, are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 43)

Erin Jacobsma


Think About It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling overwhelmed by my God the King,

Mike Altena

 


The Story We Tell

Every picture tells a story…or in this case, every family video creates conversation, reminiscing, and a lot of laughter. At least it did for my Dad’s siblings and a few of my cousins as we sat and watched old family films. Just a week prior to our family gathering, my sweet Grandma had passed away and while the family was together at the funeral my cousin suggested we dig out these old family memories. I recalled watching these precious family flicks as a child, but had not given them much thought for many years. Thankfully my grandparents had all their old 35mm films put on VHS tapes years ago which made showing the films, some sixty or so years later, a bit less challenging than it could have been.

A couple days after Grandma’s funeral, my family gathered in our shop for supper. As the meal was wrapping up and everyone’s belly was full, my cousin and I rolled out an old VCR and projector. We got a few strange looks as we were pulling out our surprise, especially when the vintage projector screen was set up. Once everyone was settled in we hit play and the laughter and sharing of good times began. I was able to watch my dad blow out his candles on his third birthday, see my beautiful grandma smiling as her young children opened their Christmas gifts, and catch a glimpse of an uncle I was never able to meet. One detail I had forgotten about these tapes was my Grandpa narrating the videos, and the sound of his voice made my heart smile even more. I was a little sad when the last tape ended, but I am thankful we have these special memories to treasure for a lifetime.

My Grandpa was notorious for lugging his huge video camera around on his shoulder when I was young. Why? I’m not really sure, but maybe it was his unique way of documenting our family for future generations. Not only did my grandparents leave behind some wonderful family films, they also left behind a legacy of teaching their children and grandchildren about their Savior and King. Honestly, if you had met my Grandma you would think Proverbs 31 was written about her. Each stanza seems to speak of her character perfectly and her actions always mimicked the scriptures she would read to us. Each in their own way, Grandpa and Grandma told us of God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and love throughout their entire life.

In Psalm 78 the author retells the history of the Jewish nation to the people of King David’s time. The stories were told over and over again to each generation so each would know how God had cared for their ancestors. Perhaps my Grandpa filmed many events so we would not forget pieces of our history and the faithfulness of God through the hills and valleys of life, much like the writer of this chapter. 4We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Psalm 78)

I pray the same may be true of my generation as my cousins and I raise our children to remember and tell Grandpa and Grandma’s stories of God’s love and faithfulness. Children are a gift entrusted to us by God Himself and with it comes the responsibility of teaching of our Father’s love, commands, and promises in all we do. Not for happy videos to watch one day, but so the story of God’s love and faithfulness will reach generation after generation. So while you walk down the path of life, be diligent in teaching your children of their Savior in all you do. Not teaching them to simply be good little humans, but rather to live a godly life of noble character, loving all they encounter as they mimic their Savior’s footsteps in this dark and broken world.

May it also be so of all of us as we joyfully raise our children and our children’s children to love and serve our God and Savior.

Becky Ossefoort

 


Always Reforming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reformed and always reforming,

Mike Altena

 


Confirmation Hearings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace to you, and peace, Mike Altena

 


Be Still

One step forward, two steps back… Add a little tune to this phrase and you could have a depressing country western song. You may even have a greatest hit on your hands because it seems to sum up the way many feel these days. This short phrase has been playing like a broken record in my head lately as I have adjusted my plans to meet the reality of each new day.

I’m a planner and this year has not been an ideal year for planning much of anything. Scheduling any type of event has involved thinking outside the box, being creative, and always having a contingency plan. (And writing in pencil, not pen.) I handled it pretty well at first and found my energy in being creative and trying new things. When Plan A wouldn’t work as smoothly as I had thought, I quickly opened the playbook for Plan B…then Plan C…Plan Q…

I had navigated all the twists and turns this season has had to offer fairly well until a few weeks ago. As I was washing the dishes one afternoon, in the quiet of my kitchen, my heart was burdened with sadness and defeat. My mind had been drifting through the many emotions swirling through me when I looked up to see a small scripture card hanging on my window. The gentle whisper printed on the card said, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still. Exodus 14:14.” The words punctured my soul as I considered the fact I had perhaps been trying to fight a battle myself in the days prior.

Moses confidently spoke these words to the Israelites as they stood on the bank of the Red Sea. After leaving Egypt they had found themselves caught between an army who wanted to do great harm and a raging sea without a bridge. Instead of holding fast to the Word of God and remembering all His promises, the Israelites were fixated on the obstacles surrounding them. Perhaps we feel some of the same fears and anxieties now as we stand here wondering how we will ever cross this sea of division and virus talk. I don’t know about you, but I have heard and done my fair share of whining and grumbling, much like the Israelites. Energy all wasted on complaining about the problems around us, rather than simply being still; faithfully trusting our Sovereign God’s timing. As the Israelites anxiously waited on the shoreline for what was next, the Lord spoke and Moses obediently reached out his hands. As he stretched his arms over the water, God fought the battle as the sea opened and a path to freedom was given. Step by step the Israelites put one foot in front of the other all the way to the other side – on dry ground, no less!

I took in the words on the small card as I continued my task in the kitchen. Shortly after, my mind turned to praise and thanking God for the many battles He has fought on my behalf, even the ones I’m unaware of. The burdens weighing me down were lifted from my heart and I was reassured all would work out in His perfect timing. The next several days I stayed focused on what God was doing in this situation and did my best to be obedient to His leading – step by step. As I did I still encountered obstacles and doubt, but I surrendered it all to Him. Want to know what happened next? God fought the battle and not only did He take care of the situation, He provided in abundance!

May this be so of us today as we faithfully trust God’s plan in this time and place. May we hold steadfast to His promises and find our hope and strength in Him alone.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Exodus 15:2

Becky Ossefoort

 


Safety Rules

Safety / sāf-tē / noun

  1. The condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury, or loss
  2. The action of keeping safe

There seems to be a lot of talk this year about safety. Actually safety has been a hot topic for a long time, just ask any business that’s regulated or been investigated by OSHA. The change comes in what we are trying to be safe from.

The “Stay Safe MN” slogan grinds my gears every time I see it, so I’ve been evaluating my angst about safety. Many catchy phrases popped up in my Google “safety” search: safety doesn’t happen by accident; safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless; when safety is first, you last; safety rules are your best tools.

Most of these slogans were promoted by employers trying to limit insurance claims and other problems at their business, but there are many things that we do to keep ourselves and others safe. Babies are strapped into car seats, boaters wear life jackets, bikers sport helmets. We remove snow and ice from our sidewalks, we clean splattered bugs from our windshields, we secure the handrails on our stairs. Steel-toed boots, leather gloves, hard hats, ear muffs, and goggles are all tools of safety. In the name of safety, my husband is required to wear high visibility clothing at his job, and we buckle up every time we get in a vehicle, (which, I might add, was instrumental in my daughter’s safety a few months ago.) Choosing safety isn’t stupid.

So why does the push to stay safe make me cringe?

First, we have to trust the item or action that provides safety. This is different for each person. Not everyone wears their seatbelt, safety glasses, or helmet. Although some safety measures are regulated by law, not everyone complies. Our confidence, or lack of, will determine our actions. It will also have consequences. King David declares in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Where is my trust?

Second, I question if we worship safety? Safety, and security often dominate the prayers that I hear from the kids in my classroom… keep us safe on our way home, keep us safe at school, keep my friends safe, my family safe, etc. One would wonder if we live in a hostile country where our safety is in question day in and day out. At one time, I forbid the use of the word safe during our prayer time so we could think beyond our physical security. There is so much more that we could pray about. Instead of praying for safety, lets pray for courage. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and of self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7) I believe that God is concerned with our physical well-being. Scripture tells us that he watches over the sparrows and flowers and knows when each hair falls from our head. But I also believe that our priority is to seek Him, not safety. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Third, do we serve a God of safety? Is following Jesus a protection guarantee? Is a life that’s free from pain our reward for faith in God? Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) That doesn’t sound very safe. Jesus also said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Regardless if you have had similar thoughts or different ideas regarding safety, may we all take heed from words found in Philippians chapter 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always… let your reasonableness be known to everyone… do not be anxious… let your requests be made known to God… with thanksgiving… and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Erin Jacobsma